BEIJING — It was underwhelming performance, but a performance that got Team USA into the gold medal game.
Team USA downed a scrappy Finland team 4-1 on Monday to set up a showdown with archrival Canada to see who has the top women's hockey program in the world.
Goals by Cayla Barnes, Hilary Knight, Hayley Scamurra and Abby Roque were the bright spots in another game in which Team USA went stretches without finding the back of the net. It had a few good looks but failed to convert them.
But Team USA held Finland scoreless until the final minute. If the USA women are going to knock off the offensive juggernaut that is Canada, it will be up to goaltending and defense to keep them in games. Can it be done? Team USA has allowed eight goals in six games — although most came in a 4-2 loss to Canada to finish group play.
Team USA, which beat the Finns 5-2 in group play, sputtered in the first period, not doing much with most of its 12 shots on goal. Amanda Kessel did have a breakaway near the 11-minute mark and attempted to five-hole Finnish goaltender Anni Keisala. Keisala got her gear down in time for the save.
Finland played disciplined defense, limited quality chances and generated some offense of its own. USA has been having trouble turning the volume of its shots into goals. This time, there wasn't even volume for a team that has averaged more than 50 shots a game in the tournament. And Finland nearly had a tic-tac-goal in the final minute, but goaltender Alex Cavallini made nice stops with her left pad on Michelle Karvinen, who tried to beat her in close and the rebound.
Team USA took it to Finland to start the second period, getting eight shots on net in the opening minutes. This follows a pattern in how they come out of the locker room looking to raise its game. But it didn't turn into a goal until after Team USA was gifted a power play. Tanja Niskanen was called for tripping when Kendall Coyne Schofield fell to the ice on her own.
A minute later, former Gopher Hannah Brandt of Vadnais Heights fed Barnes for her first career Olympic goal, and Team USA led 1-0.
The USA's initial surge wore off, however, and Finland had a couple chances to score. Cavallini had to snatch one shot out of the air during the final minutes of the period. It got to the point where any time the Finns moved the puck into USA territory, their supporters began to get excited.
Knight took care of that with 67 seconds left in the second, firing a shot by Keisala from the left circle, a big goal that allowed Team USA to enter the second intermission leading 2-0. Scamurra tipped in Barnes' shot late in the third for a 3-0 lead. Finland scored with 26 seconds left before Roque fired into an empty net just before the final horn.
Canada-USA is the matchup everyone has wanted in the Olympics. But is Team USA ready for the Canadians?
Canada has scored a record 54 goals in six games. That includes 10 or more goals three times, including a 10-3 win over Switzerland in the other semifinal on Monday. The Canadians scored four goals in the first 9 minutes, 21 seconds, and five overall in the first period.
The Maple Leaf Machine is fine-tuned and purring.
"The amount of goals we have scored is no accident," forward Brianne Jenner said.
This will be Canada's seventh straight goal medal game at the Olympics, and it will be against its fiercest rival. The teams had a spirited exhibition series in the fall that was cut short by COVID-19 concerns. The Canadians still sound as if the shootout loss to Team USA in the 2018 gold-medal game still stings.
It was during that Olympics that Canada beat Team USA during pool play, but the USA prevailed when they played for gold.
The gold-medal game is scheduled for 10:10 p.m. Minnesota time on Wednesday.