Canada 3 Slovakia 2
VANCOUVER — It was close, but Team Canada gets to go for gold at the Vancouver Olympics.
Ryan Getzlaf scored a goal and set up another as the Canadian men took a lead and then survived a wild third-period comeback to defeat Slovakia 3-2 in semifinal action Friday night.
Canada, looking to avenge a 5-3 loss in round-robin play, will take on the United States in an all-North American final Sunday in the first Olympic tournament played on an NHL-size rink. The U.S. trounced Finland 6-1 earlier Friday.
The same teams met in the final of the last Winter Games held in North America in 2002 in Salt Lake City, where Canada prevailed 5-2.
”It gives us an opportunity to do something we didn’t do last time,” U.S. defenceman Brian Rafalski said of the Salt Lake defeat.
Patrick Marleau and Brenden Morrow also scored for Canada in a game they dominated at both ends of the ice for two periods against a Slovak team that kept the score down by staying back and building a defensive wall in front of goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
“There was a lot of meat out there, some big hits and some big (defence),” Morrow said. “We have some pretty big forwards that are grinding the pucks low. That was our game plan to get pucks in deep, grind them out down low and for the most part we had success.
“And when we didn’t, we made things pretty hairy for ourselves.”
In the final minute, Pavol Demitra had a glorious chance to tie it up from the side of the goal. But Roberto Luongo somehow deflected it away.
“I can’t believe he made that save,” Demitra said. “I hit it hard, too, and I know he was lucky or something, but it hit his glove.”
Said Luongo: “After his first shot, there was a lot of traffic. It went off my pad. I looked over and I saw somebody coming for the rebound and I tried to get as much body as I could across and fortunately got a glove on it.”
Canada outshot Slovakia 28-21.
The Slovaks opened up their attack and made it a game in the third as Lubomir Visnovsky caught Luongo napping for a goal and Michal Handzus cut the lead to 3-2 with 4:53 left to play.
Visnovsky scored unassisted at 11:35 of the third when Luongo failed to cover his post as the Slovak defenceman backhanded the puck from a tight angle. It was only Slovakia’s 13th shot of the game.
Then Richard Zednik won a battle for the puck with Drew Doughty, wheeled in front for a shot and saw Handzus score on the rebound.
“We tried to play a simple zero-zero game. After we scored our first goal, we found our energy. We had no energy for the first 40 minutes,” said Demitra.
It had earlier looked like it would be a routine win for Canada, which started nervously but by five minutes in were controlling the play.
Canada finally broke through at 13:30 when Shea Weber threw the puck at the net and Marleau batted it down out of the air and in off the post.
The goal was allowed after a video review showed Marleau’s stick was not above crossbar level.
Getzlaf used his long reach to poke a puck to the point, where Chris Pronger shovelled it toward the net and Morrow tipped it past Halak only 1:47 later.
Then it was Getzlaf who beat rangy Zdeno Chara to a rebound and put a backhand shot in the top corner at 16:54 of the second frame for only the second shorthanded goal Slovakia has allowed in the tournament.
Slovakia’s first real chance came late in the period when Zigmund Palffy broke in and fired from the slot, but Luongo made the save and managed to keep out the wildly bouncing rebound.
Slovakia, playing for a medal for the first time at an Olympics, will meet Finland for bronze on Saturday.
The Slovaks finished fifth at the 2006 Games in Turin and topped that with an upset victory over defending Olympic champion Sweden in the quarter-finals Wednesday.