By Steve Keating
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Drew Doughty scored the overtime winner as Canada edged Finland 2-1 to close the preliminary round of the Olympic men's ice hockey competition on Sunday and keep their gold medal defense on course.
By taking top spot in Group B ahead of the Finns, unbeaten Canada will have a more direct route to the gold medal final than they did four years ago on home ice in Vancouver when they were forced to play an elimination game.
Doughty, a defenseman, continued to be an offensive force for Canada, scoring once in regulation and again midway into the five minute extra-session to give him a team-high four goals in three games.
"I just tried to get the puck on goal for a tip or something, and it went in," Doughty told reporters. "I don't know what's going on. I don't usually score goals like that.
"We needed this win today.
"I think that's how a lot of teams are going to play us throughout the rest of the tournament.
"They're going to kind of sit back and make us make mistakes and, on the turnovers, they're going to jump and try to get odd-man rushes."
With the three group winners plus the best second place finishers receiving direct passage to the quarter-finals, Finland also avoided playing in an elimination game with the top runners-up record of two wins and an overtime loss.
Following a 3-1 win over Norway in their opener and 6-0 rout of Austria, the Canadians received their first real test of the tournament against Finland, a team who reached the podium in four of the last five Winter Games.
Doughty had the only goal of the opening period, picking the top corner on Tuukka Rask with a blistering wrist shot for his third of the Olympics.
The Finns leveled with two minutes to play in the second when Tuomo Ruutu deflected Ossi Vaananen's rocket from just inside the blueline past Carey Price.
After a scoreless third, Doughty ended the drama with 2:32 gone in the overtime by driving down the wing and rifling another shot past Rask.
"That guy is full of confidence," said Canadian team mate Jeff Carter. "He's probably the most skilled player I've ever played with."
Both netminders provided the type of goaltending expected of medal contenders, Rask handling 27 shots while Price faced 15.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)