BEIJING — Hilary Knight had a goal and assist, Alex Cavallini stopped 25 shots, and the defending Olympic champion United States defeated Finland 4-1 in the women’s hockey semifinals at the Beijing Games on Monday to set up the sixth gold-medal showdown between the Americans and Canada.
The cross-border rivals will play on Thursday after Canada erupted for five first-period goals over an Olympic record span of 3:24 in a 10-3 win over Switzerland earlier in the day. The two world powers have played for the championship in every Olympic tournament but the 2006 Turin Games, when Canada defeated Sweden after the Swedes eliminated the Americans in the semifinals.
This time, the U.S. is attempting to defend its title following a 3-2 shootout win at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, which ended Canada’s Olympic run of four championships.
Cayla Barnes had a goal and assist, while Hayley Scamurra and Abby Roque, with an empty-netter, also scored for the Americans.
Barnes opened the scoring 3:39 into the second period by pinching in from the right point to convert Hannah Brandt’s pass through the crease for a power-play goal. The tripping called against Finland’s Tanja Niskanen was questionable after it appeared the U.S. player fell on her own.
Knight, playing in her U.S. women’s team record-tying 21st Olympic game, scored with 1:07 remaining in the second period. Savannah Harmon’s initial shot was blocked and Knight got to the loose puck to the left of the net and snapped it in for her 11th career Olympic goal to tie Jenny Potter for third on the USA list.
Cavallini was sharp in her third start of the tournament, and lost her shutout bid on Susanna Tapani’s goal with 26 seconds remaining. Her best saves came in the final minute of the opening period when she got her left pad out to stop Michelle Karvinen and then got her glove up to bat away Karvinen attempting to convert the rebound on a two-on-one rush.
Anni Keisala stopped 38 shots for Finland.
Finland will face Switzerland in the bronze-medal game on Wednesday in a repeat of the same matchups from the world championship tournament in August, when Canada beat the U.S. 3-2 in overtime of the championship game. Finland won bronze with a 3-1 win over the Swiss.
Canada is considered the favorite in Beijing with a 6-0 record, including a 4-2 win over the U.S. in the preliminary round finale last week.
Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored two goals against the Swiss, said it made no difference who her team faces in the final.
“We worked for these moments. We’ve been working for four years,” Poulin said. “I think we deserve it.”
Canadian player Sarah Nurse, however, was looking forward to renewing the rivalry one more time.
“Obviously, playing the U.S. it’s always an exciting game, always an exciting rivalry,” said Nurse, who had four assists. “Our biggest focus is we get to play another game at the Olympics. We came here to play seven games. We wanted the last one to be the gold-medal game.”
The opponent might not matter given how Canada has been the tournament’s most dominating team by raising the bar in how the women’s game is played with a four-line deep, relentlessly attacking style of offense.
Claire Thompson had a goal and two assists as Canada improved to 6-0 and has out-scored its opponents by a combined margin of 54-8 to set a single Olympic tournament record for most goals. The previous mark of 48 goals by Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Games came in only five games.
“I think we’re taking the game to new heights right now,” Nurse said. “We’re playing a style of hockey that’s never been seen in our tournament before. And so, in 5-10 years, other countries are going to be playing our style of play, and we’re going to keep pushing the envelope and keep making our sport better.”
The five goals scored in under 3 1/2 minutes broke the previous record set by the Canadians in 2010, when they scored five times in a 4:03 span in a 13-1 win over Sweden.
The barrage left Switzerland coach Colin Muller awestruck in how quickly things unraveled.
“We just had a blackout for four minutes,” he said. “You can’t give them that momentum because they’re just like sharks when they smell blood. And when they they taste it, they’re going.”
The one consolation is how his team didn’t let down as it did during a 12-1 loss to Canada in the tournament opener. Lara Stalder and Alina Muller cut the lead to 5-2 before Poulin and Emily Clark responded by scoring 11 seconds apart to put Canada up 7-2 at the 8:03 mark of the period.
Unlike the high-scoring Canadians, the U.S. has struggled with finishing chances while also playing without top-line center Brianna Decker, who broke her leg in a tournament-opening 5-2 win over Finland.
The struggles continued Monday following a scoreless first period in which the Americans had a 12-6 edge in shots. Keisala got her right pad out to make a spread-eagled stop on Amanda Kessel driving in on a breakaway, while Kelly Pannek was stopped trying to jam in a loose puck from atop the crease.
The Americans outshot the Finns 42-26.
The Americans entered the day fifth among 10 teams in scoring efficiency with 24 goals on a tournament-leading 292 shots. Their power play ranked fourth in converting five of 24 opportunities.