Gangneung, South Korea: Four-time defending champions Canada and reigning world champions United States advanced to the Pyeongchang Olympic women's hockey final with clinical shutout triumphs on Monday, setting up another showdown for gold between the arch-rivals.
The Canadians stretched their Olympic win streak to 24 games and kept alive their drive for five consecutive gold medals by thrashing the Olympic Athletes from Russia 5-0.
"It's kind of exciting, but we're only here for one reason," Canada's Meghan Agosta said. "We just need to carry on the momentum. There's no doubt in my mind we're the better team."
The US women, who haven't won Olympic gold in 20 years, blanked Finland 5-0 to reach Thursday's title game.
"It's honestly a dream come true," US forward Hilary Knight said. "It's the world's biggest stage. It's the game you've been dreaming of. You have to keep working and do the things you do well."
Only once in Olympic or world championship history has the final not been contested by the two teams, and when the two meet they are usually chippy and physical affairs.
"That kind of intensity is why you love the game and why you want to play it," said Canada coach Laura Schuler. "It's important for our girls to play physical... this is how you want it, best-on-best competition."
Count on physical play from both teams if Canada's 2-1 group stage win over the Americans is any indication.
"It's going to be a rough game and everyone is going to give their all," said Canada's Rebecca Johnston. "It should be a great game."
Canada needed over-time to beat the Americans in the 2014 Olympic final, but has since dropped three world finals to the Americans.
"We're confident. We'll stick with what has gotten us success the last three years," US forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said. "We'll enjoy this. It's what we came here and worked hard for, to put ourselves in position for a gold medal."
Canada's Jennifer Wakefield scored 1:50 into the semi-final and Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin netted a backhander 3:10 into the second period to make it 2-0.
Wakefield struck again 1:59 into the third, Emily Clark followed 31 seconds later and Johnston added the last goal with 5:52 remaining. Shannon Szabados made 14 saves in the shutout.
'Gold medal preparation'
Dani Cameranesi scored two goals and goaltender Maddie Rooney made 14 saves in the American triumph. Lamoureux-Davidson, Knight and Gigi Martin also scored as the US women dominated.
"It's spectacular to see our team come out and perform that well because there was a lot of pressure," US coach Robb Stauber said. "This was really a gold medal preparation for us. We had to be ready."
One item of concern for the Americans was the hard hit US captain Meghan Duggan inflicted on Finland's Ronja Savolainen, sending her face-first into the boards.
"My head just got hit on the boards. But I'm good," Savolainen said. "I was taking so long my feet were pretty cold."
Duggan said she didn't expect an issue regarding a possible ban for the final.
"I don't think so," Duggan said. "There wasn't a call on the ice. We kept going."
The Americans, who have not won Olympic gold since the first women's tournament in 1998 at Nagano, outshot Canada 45-23 in the loss last week.
"We had a lot of point-blank scoring opportunities. We've got to find a way to get those in the net," Lamoureux-Davidson said.
"When you put 45 shots on goal you've got to be able to put more than one into the net. We just have to find a way to finish."
Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 21:58 PM