Canada edged the United States 3-2 in a clash between the women's ice hockey heavyweights on Wednesday, giving the three-time defending Olympic champions a psychological edge ahead of an expected gold medal matchup at the Sochi Games.
The marquee game of the preliminary round offered what many have come to expect from the sport's two superpowers - an intense, back-and-forth, physical battle played at a high tempo that went down to the wire.
Trailing 1-0 early in the third period, Canada got two quick goals from Meghan Agosta, who was celebrating her 27th birthday, and Hayley Wickenheiser to pull ahead before enduring a frantic finish to seal the win and top spot in Group A.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," said Agosta, who finished with two goals and an assist. "I didn't go out there thinking I'm going to score on my birthday, but it wasn't just about me. We won as a team."
Canada looked headed for a comfortable finish after Agosta scored her second of the game to give her team a two-goal cushion with about five minutes to play.
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- US Kaitlyn Farrington competes in the Women's Snowboard Halfpipe Finals. Photo: Getty Images
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- The United States and Canada battled for the top of Group A in the Women's Ice Hockey Preliminaries, with Canada taking the 3-2 win. Photo: Getty Images
- Meghan Acosta was the star for Canada with two goals in the third period. Photo: Getty Images
- The U.S. had taken a 1-0 lead into the third period but were unable to hang on for the win. Photo: Getty Images
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- Czech Republic's Antonin Broz and Lukas Broz take part in a training session for the luge doubles. Photo: Getty Images
- Eric Frenzel of Germany wins the gold medal, Akito Watabe of Japan wins the silver medal, Magnus Krog of Norway wins the bronze medal during the Nordic Combined Normal Hill/10km. Photo: Getty Images
- Akito Watabe of Japan wins the silver medal during the Nordic Combined Normal Hill/10km Photo: Getty Images
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- Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany compete in the Figure Skating Pairs Free Skating. Photo: Getty Images
- China's Peng Cheng and China's Zhang Hao perform their Figure Skating Pairs Free Program. Photo: Getty Images
But the Americans pulled their goalie in favor of an extra attacker and the move paid off as Anne Schleper scored with 65 seconds left.
Canada then took a penalty for having too many players on the ice but the Americans, still playing with an empty net, were unable to make advantage count.
"We've taken some hits and we'll come back from it," said U.S. forward Hilary Knight. "Unfortunately we haven't had the greatest puck luck today but we'll come back a stronger team the next time."
The loss was the first of the tournament for the United States but they will also advance directly to the semis as they finished second behind Canada in the group.
Since women's ice hockey was added to the Olympic program at the 1998 Nagano Games, Canada and the United States have accounted for all four gold medals.
The Sochi Games is debuting a new format aimed at avoiding the embarrassing routs at previous Olympics that have put the sport's Olympic future in doubt.