The Americans didn't believein miracles. They just believed.
And they pulled off the biggest Olympic hockey upset since theMiracle on Ice, stunning Canada 5-3 on Sunday to advance to thequarterfinals of an already mixed-up tournament.
Brian Rafalski scored two goals, Ryan Miller held off a flurryof shots and the Americans quieted a raucous, pro-Canada crowd thatcame to cheer its dream team, only to see it upstaged by a bunch ofunproven kids.
One day short of the 30th anniversary of the country's greatesthockey victory - the unfathomable win over the Soviet Union in LakePlacid - these underrated Americans were faster, more disciplinedand more determined than Canada's collection of all-stars.
"We know we can beat anybody now," Rafalski said.
Canada outshot the United States 45-23 yet couldn't badly dentMiller, the goalie the Americans felt could best stand up to all ofCanada's might. He did just that, making 42 saves in the victory ofa lifetime.
"It's probably one of the biggest games I've ever played,"Miller said. "When things happened we responded. We didn't getnervous or anxious. We kept playing."
When Ryan Kesler scored in the final minute, the few U.S. fanswho managed to get seats proudly waved their American flags, alltheir red, white and blue suddenly visible.
"You look up and everything's red and white - so few Americanflags" at the start, said U.S. coach Ron Wilson, who also led the1996 team that upset Canada in the World Cup. "We expected ahostile environment. The intensity of the game helped, too."
Depending on the later Finland-Sweden game that concludedhockey's Super Sunday in Vancouver, the United States could go intoWednesday's quarterfinals not only as a group winner but as thetop-seeded team, something almost no one predicted when thetournament began.
Canada, the gold-medal favorite, was expected to coast into themedal round. But now, after nearly losing to Switzerland and beingoutplayed on home ice by the Americans, it must win a play-in gameTuesday against Germany to reach the quarterfinals.
After that, Canada likely will meet Russia, a matchup thatwasn't expected until the gold-medal game.
"Just like everybody in this tournament, we're playing tosurvive," coach Mike Babcock said. "If you lose, you go home."
The Canadians still could win a gold medal, but now face a muchtougher road that would include an additional game and a moredifficult quarterfinal-round opponent.
"We're here to be the last ones standing and we're stillalive," goalie Martin Brodeur said. "We're throwing 45 shots atthese goalies and they are making stops facing forward, backward,sideways. Eventually we'll be more successful."
Chris Drury, a former Little League World Series star, and JamieLangenbrunner scored to put the U.S. up 4-2 and hold off arelentless late surge by Canada that included Sidney Crosby's powerplay goal with 3:09 remaining.
Miller made an exceptional save on Rick Nash's shot from theslot with two minutes left to preserve it, and Kesler put it awayby swiping in an empty-net goal with one hand with 45 secondsremaining.
"He made some really key saves in the third period and was thedifference," Canada forward Eric Staal said, referring to Miller,the Buffalo Sabres goalie.
Rafalski, Langenbrunner and Drury are three of the older,steadying hands on one of the youngest U.S. Olympic teams inhistory, one that averages 5 years younger per man than the 2006team that didn't medal in Turin.
"It's great for our young players to get a win of this caliberagainst that type of team," Rafalski said. "Going forward, itsets the bar very high for us. It lets those guys know that we canpossibly win this thing."
The U.S., supposedly a tier below the Canadians, Russians andSwedes, got exactly the start it wanted. Rafalski's slap shot fromthe right point 41 seconds into the game deflected off Crosby'sstick and past Brodeur, the best goalie of his generation but notthe better goalie in the game.
"We wanted a good start but that was better than expected forsure," forward Patrick Kane said.
Staal tied it by deflecting Brent Seabrook's shot from the rightcircle at 8:53 - one of 19 that Canada took to America's six in anup-tempo first period.
Just when it appeared Canada would blunt America's earlymomentum, Rafalski scored 22 seconds after Staal's goal following arare misplay by Brodeur. The goalie threw the puck up the middle ofthe ice into traffic, Rafalski swooped in and snapped off a shotthat a screened Brodeur apparently didn't see.
It was Rafalski's fourth goal on only six shots in three games,or as many as the defenseman has all season with the Detroit RedWings.
The Canadians spent most of the opening 10 minutes of the secondperiod in the U.S. zone, getting a tying goal from Dany Heatley -his fourth in three games - but Miller gave up no others.
The U.S., 3-0 with three wins in regulation, got the lead backwhen Drury made it 3-2 with 16:46 gone in the second. Drury took ashot from the far edge of the right circle and, after David Backesand Bobby Ryan missed followups, he skated in and finally got thepuck past a prone Brodeur.
Minutes before, Brodeur - the NHL career victories and shutoutsleader - took a shot off his facemask, causing him to remove it andexamine it for damage.
Now, his team will be doing the same thing.
While it was only a preliminary-round game, tickets were scalpedfor four digits, and fans wearing Canada's distinctive redmaple-leaf jerseys lined up for hours waiting to be admitted.
"You just can't beat it. It was fun," said Paul Stastny, whosefather, Peter, opposed that 1980 team while playing forCzechoslovakia. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime atmosphere."
Hockey is more than a way of life in Canada. It is part of thenation's very fabric, and the country's 33 million residentsembrace their team with a passion - and agonize with it, too. Earlyestimates were that half the country was watching, and thisperformance won't do much to calm the nation's nerves.
The Americans took a page out of 1960 by wearing uniforms nearlyidentical to those of the gold-medal winning team at Squaw Valley.The U.S. hadn't beaten Canada in the Olympics since winning 2-1 inthose games.
U.S. team officials ringed the team's dressing room withmotivational messages, like "Be Brilliant in the Basics" as areminder that Olympic games are won with team play, goodgoaltending and attention to detail, not necessarily by the teamwith the biggest names. They got all the above.
And the Miracle on Ice team? There's links to this team: RyanSuter, who had two assists, is the son of 1980 defenseman BobSuter. And defenseman Brooks Orpik, steady throughout, is named forHerb Brooks, the 1980 coach.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times