by Ralph Routon
The rematch is set, only this time it's for the gold.
Canada will face the United States in the men's hockey final, the last competitive event of the 2010 Winter Olympics, on Sunday afternoon. But it wasn't that easy for the host nation, as Team Canada built a 3-0 lead before holding on at the end for a 3-2 semifinal victory against Slovakia.
Earlier, swarming and attacking as much as at any time during the Winter Olympics men's hockey tournament, Team USA struck for an amazing six goals in the first 12:46 of play and cruised thereafter en route to a stunningly easy 6-1 victory against Finland in the first semifinal at Canada Hockey Place.
Ryan Malone began the assault on Finn goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff just 2:04 into the game that almost every hockey observer expected to be low-scoring. Zach Parise struck next with a power-play goal at 6:23, then Erik Johnson's rebound goal at 8:36 clearly shocked Kiprusoff, who plays for the Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League.
Patrick Kane fired in the next two goals, one at 10:08 that sent Kiprusoff to the bench, then another at 12:31. Just 15 seconds after that, Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche scored from the slot to make it 6-0.
At that point, the Americans had an 11-2 lead in shots on goal, nothing like what was expected from the aggressive Finns after their upset of Sweden in the quarterfinals.
The shutout lasted until the final six minutes, when the Finns scored after the U.S. had replaced starting goaltender Ryan Miller with backup Tim Thomas.
Last Sunday, the U.S. knocked off Canada, 5-3, in what was considered a major upset to wrap up pool play. Now the Americans are 5-0 at the Olympics and never have trailed in a game.