VANCOUVER -- In all reality, this was the dream final from the very beginning.
Canada vs. Russia would have been hyped in the Canadian media for all the history and skill, but Canada vs. the United States for the gold medal on Sunday will bring about a divide so massive and intense that an entire continent could shake.
It's a pair of North American teams on North American ice playing for world hockey supremacy.
Hours after the Americans fulfilled their obligation by crushing Finland, the Canadians survived a scare before finally beating Slovakia, 3-2 on Friday night. The Slovaks, who got two late goals in the third period, will play for the bronze against Finland on Saturday (10 p.m. ET).
The Canadians opened a 2-0 lead in the first period on deflection goals by Patrick Marleau
and Brenden Morrow, and Ryan Getzlaf made it 3-0 after 40 minutes with a backhanded shot from the slot.
Roberto Luongo gave up a goal to Lubomir Visnovsky midway through the third period and then Michal Handzus
beat him from the slot with 4:53 to play, cutting Canada's once strong 3-0 lead down to 3-2.
Luongo, though, preserved the win in the frantic final moments to lift Canada into the gold medal game.
Eight years ago Canada won its first gold medal in 50 years with a 5-2 win over Team USA on American ice in Salt Lake City. Now the Yanks will have a chance to exact a measure of revenge on Canadian ice by trying to win their first gold medal since the miracle in 1980.
If you thought the building rocked when Canada played Russia in the quarterfinals Wednesday, well look out for pieces of Canada Hockey Place's roof around downtown Vancouver on Sunday because the noise will be strong enough to blow up the building.
It actually started early in the third period when it seemed like everyone in the building was chanting "We want USA." The chant changed later in the period to, "We want the gold."
Team USA already took down Canada in this tournament by a 5-3 margin last Sunday, but Canada felt it won that game in every which way but the scoreboard. The Canadians outshot the Americans, 45-23, and for extended periods exerted their physical will, too.
Both teams came away from that game with confidence. Canada wiped out Germany, Russia and Slovakia by a combined 11 goals. The United States beat Switzerland and Finland by a combined 8-1.
Canada took longer than the U.S. did to get going Friday night. With Visnovsky behind him, Marleau deflected Shea Weber's harmless looking shot from the right point down and past Jaroslav Halak 13:30 into the game.
Team USA scored six times within the first 12:46 against the Finns.
Marleau's goal had to be reviewed by the officials because they were wondering if he held his stick was too high in order to deflect the shot. It was too close to call so they couldn't wave off the goal.
Less than two minutes later, Morrow scored the exact same way with the exact same Slovak defenseman behind him. Again Visnovsky did not take the body on the man in front and Morrow got his stick on Chris Pronger's knuckling shot to score at 15:17.
There was no need to review this one as Pronger's shot was low and Morrow's stick was about an inch or two off the ice. Getzlaf made a nice play in the middle of the zone to poke the puck over to Pronger at the top of the left circle.
Canada got what appeared to be an insurance goal when Getzlaf scored on the power play at 16:54. However, that turned into the game-winning goal because the Slovaks would not go away in the third period.
Visnovsky scored on a backhand off the outer half of Luongo's left leg with 8:25 to play and then Handzus banged the puck in from the slot after Richard Zednik made a nice play to get the puck to the front.
Slovakia may have been guilty of trapping too much through the first two periods. They did a fine job limiting Canada's transition through the neutral zone, but the Slovaks did not counterattack.
Luongo finally made his first big save about 18 minutes into the second period when he went down into the butterfly to stop Zigmund Palffy on a breakaway. Slovakia had nine shots through two periods, but that was the only one that truly tested Luongo.
Canada also did a great job of limiting Slovakia's top two players, Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik. Jonathan Toews' line was matched against Gaborik and Sidney Crosby's line matched against Hossa.
Gaborik, though, did not play in the third period. He came into the Olympics injured with a deep laceration on his right knee, but hasn't missed a game in the tournament.
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org
SVK 0 0 2 - 2
CAN 2 1 0 - 3
1. CAN, Marleau (Weber, Niedermayer) 13:30
2. CAN, Morrow (Pronger, Getzlaf) 15:17
Penalties - None
3. CAN, Getzlaf (Perry, Pronger) 16:54 (PPG)
Penalties - Doughty CAN (hooking) 1:29, Chara SVK (roughing) 6:08, Zednik SVK (holding the stick) 16:34.
4. SVK, Visnovsky (Stumpel) 11:35
5. SVK, Handzus (Zednik, Satan) 15:07
Penalties - None
SHOTS ON GOAL
SVK 4 5 12 - 21
CAN 10 11 7 - 28
Goaltenders (goals-shots against) - SVK: Halak (L, 3-21); CAN: Luongo (W, 2-28).
Power plays (goals-chances) - SVK: 0-1; CAN: 1-2.