It will be the sixth meeting for gold between the North Americans, and it promises to be another gem. Finland will now play Switzerland for that coveted bronze medal.
"It’s the Olympic final," USA coach Joel Johnson said. "We’re playing Canada; we’re excited, and we’ve got two days to prepare. There are a few things to clean up, but each game there are some adjustments. Our power play was good, and I thought our defensive play was outstanding and that starts in net."
Because of Brianna Decker's injury, Johnson was able to dress only 19 skaters again. Interestingly, seven were defenders, but neither Caroline Harvey nor Jincy Dunne saw a single shift, dropping his roster to 17. As well, Megan Bozek played only 15 minutes, meaning Johnson used only four defenders for much of the game.
"I’m devastated right now," said Finland's Michelle Karvinen. "It was a dream for us to be in the final, and right now there are a lot of feelings. It’s not easy. We need to take these feelings and bring them with us. It’s something that can make us stronger. But we need to regroup because we want to leave here with a medal."
"The first period was really, really good, but the second period was really tough for us," said Finland coach Juuso Toivola. "Simple things like clearing the area in front of the net, be quick on transitions, but these players don’t play these fast games so often, so it’s difficult. We talked about that and I think we’ll improve on that. But we didn’t quit, we fought really well till the end and I’m proud of that."
The Americans were the better team in the opening period, but Finland did what it knew it had to do – keep the Americans at bay for as long as possible. They saw how it affected the U.S. in the Czechia game, and knew the longer the game stayed 0-0 the better their chances.
It wasn’t easy, though. Abbey Murphy had a nice chance early, but Anni Keisala kicked out the right pad. A little later, Lee Stecklein hit Amanda Kessel with a breakaway pass, but Kessel’s deke slid through the crease as Keisala got low to block the shot. Kelley Pannek also had a great chance from in close, but again the Keisala pad was there.
Both teams iced the puck several times, and the Finns did a terrific job of keeping the Americans to the outside. But they didn’t get any offensive zone pressure of their own, and Alex Cavallini was idle for most of the period. That changed in the final minute.
Finnish captain Jenni Hiirikoski, who can fire a torpedo pass with the best of them, hit Michelle Karvinen with a long pass that led to a two-on-one. Karvinen got the puck back and had a sensational chance with the one-timer, but Cavallini got her left pad out to make that save and then a second chance on the rebound. From the Finland perspective, that might have been the moment that decided the game.
"It was a 2-on-1 opportunity and the player made a beautiful pass to the slot," Cavallini recalled. "The other player decided to pass it back door and for me, you know, just making sure I made that back door save and I was lucky enough to make a couple of pad saves."
The play energized the Finns going to the dressing room, though. They had kept the first 20 minutes scoreless, and they had matched the U.S. for great scoring chances – Kessel versus Karvinen.
The U.S. opened the scoring early in the second on the game’s first power play. Hannah Brandt found Cayla Barnes wide open to the back of the play, and Barnes had the entire net to snap the puck into at 3:39. It wasn’t until the midway point of the period that the Finns got their first shot, but late in the period they had two glorious chances to even the score.
Noora Tulus cut in from the corner and skated across the crease, looking to slide the puck in, but Cavallini came across, paddle along the ice, and gave the Finn nothing to shoot at. Soon after, Karvinen made a gorgeous saucer pass to Petra Nieminen in full flight at the American blue line, and although she got a backhand up high off the deke, Cavallini was right there with the glove, her best and most important save of the game after the gems late in the first.
Feeding off those saves at the back end, the U.S. doubled their lead thanks to Hilary Knight. Karvinen couldn’t corral a loose puck in front of her goal, and Knight claimed the disc and drilled a high shot over Keisala’s blocker for a critical goal.
The Finns opened up in the third and dominated the faceoff circle, creating much more possession than in the first 40 minutes. Cavallini stoned Karvinen from in close off a great feed from Tapani, but try as they might the Finns couldn't get that critical first goal.
And then came the killer. Barnes kept the puck in on a clearing attempt and fired a quick shot at goal. Hayley Scamurra tipped it in front, and the puck bounced between Keisala's pads and in at 15:20. Game over.
Tapani managed to break Cavallini's shutout bid in a scramble, knocking the puck in with 26 seconds remaining. Roque got her first of the Olympics, an empty netter with 4.7 seconds left, to close out the scoring.
"I just want to win," Knight said after the game. "Every time I step on the ice, I want to win. You just have to find a way to do it. It wasn’t our best hockey, but we put ourselves in a good position to prepare for the next one."
And that next one will also be the last one. And the biggest one. And, probably, the best one.