Daily Herald
High-pressure system about to move in on Canadiens
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 2/21/2010 10:39 PM

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Not everyone thinks the NHL should be sending its players to the Olympics, but it's hard to argue against it after watching the show the U.S. and Canada put on Sunday night in Vancouver.

It was Stanley Cup playoff hockey in February with the Americans upsetting the favored Canadians 5-3.

And this wasn't even a medal game.

U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller was sensational in making 43 saves to frustrate an entire country.

"He was absolutely phenomenal and the reason why we won that game," U.S. defenseman Jack Johnson said.

Canada wasn't supposed to lose a game in these Olympics. While the Canadians still can win gold, their task now is tougher. A lot tougher. They don't get a bye into the quarterfinals and now must play a Tuesday qualifier against Germany.

What's worse is should the Canadians beat Germany, it's looking like Alexander Ovechkin and Russia would be waiting for them Wednesday.

The Americans won Group A, going 3-0, and get an extra day of rest until Wednesday's quarterfinals.

The gritty Americans can win this thing the way Miller has played.

The U.S. didn't need the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane to score to beat Canada. Defenseman Brian Rafalski had 2 goals and an assist. Chris Drury scored a huge goal late in the second period to snap a 2-2 tie. Drury, Ryan Callahan and Dustin Brown won battles, blocked shots and generally outplayed Canada's stars.

Ryan Kessler simply outhustled Canada's Corey Perry to score an empty net goal with 45 seconds to play.

Hawks Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were strong in a losing effort. Toews had 2 assists and was more noticeable than teammate Joe Thornton, who just can't seem to answer the bell when the games count the most.

Keith got a ton of ice time playing with various defense partners. When Canada, trailing 4-3, was pressing for the tying goal in the frenzied final minutes, Keith was at his best, keeping pucks in the zone and getting them to the net.

If the Canadians thought there was pressure on their shoulders before Sunday, it's only going to become heavier over the next two days as their every move in the loss to the Americans gets dissected north of the border from coast to coast.

Does Canada coach Mike Babcock stay with Martin Brodeur in goal or switch to Roberto Luongo? Brodeur certainly wasn't great in Sunday's loss.

It was interesting to see Kane and Toews meet in the handshake line following Sunday's game. Kane gave his buddy a sly smile as they shook hands, but Toews wasn't smiling. Nobody in Canada is today.