Canada rallies to beat U.S. in controversial Olympic showdown

SOCHI, Russia — The queens of Olympic hockey have yet to be dethroned.

Team Canada (3-0-0) made it 18 straight games in the Winter Games without a loss, as Meghan Agosta’s two goals and an assist led it to a 3-2 victory over its archrival Team USA (2-1-0) with a 3-goal third period rally.

It was a hard-earned win, but not one without controversy.

Just over a minute after her team tied the Americans 1-1 in the third period, Hayley Wickenheiser, the Canadian flag bearer in the Opening Ceremony, roared down the right wing and fired a shot on U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter. She made the save but botched covering the puck, instead sliding it back into her own net.

The controversy? The referee audibly blew her whistle when Vetter was attempting to trap it, well before the puck crossed the line. Yet after video review, the Canadian goal was upheld for the 2-1 lead, despite the play being technically dead before the goal was scored.

(Then again, the whistle was early anyway, before Vetter had the puck covered. So the Hockey Gods may have just been making it right for Canada.)

“I was on the bench. My initial thought, that I heard a whistle. But the final call doesn’t come down to what I think," said U.S. captain Meghan Duggan.

“I did hear the whistle blow before the puck went in,” said Coach Katey Stone. “But I said to out players, no matter what happens let’s be ready.”

They weren't ready after it, shaken by the turn of the tide.

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Agosta scored on a breakaway with 5:05 left in the game for the 3-1 lead. U.S. defenseman Anne Schleper rallied with the American net empty to cut the lead to 3-2 — a defensive lapse for Canada, followed by a puck off of goalie Charline Labonte’s glove. A too-many-skaters penalty on Canada led to a chaotic finish, but the Americans couldn’t find the equalizer. Labonte finished with 29 saves.

The game was a sterling example of the elite hockey these two archrivals bring to their games, in front of an enthusiastic crowd of more than 4,000 Canadian and American fans. The offensive was flowing, the goaltending was stellar and the teams had their usual physical affair, testing the limits of women’s hockey’s body checking ban — and occasionally crossing that line.

A scoreless first period that featured several exemplary stops from Vetter — Canada made every one of their eight shots count — led to an equally tight second period, until the Americans finally broke through.

At 17:34 of the second, with Lauriane Rougeau in the box for body checking, Schleper fired a wrist shot from the point. It sailed past a diving Wickenheiser to where Hilary Knight was planted. She extended her stick and deflected the puck past goalie Labonte to the blocker side for the 1-0 lead.

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Canada had a similar chance to take the lead on a late power play in the first but squandered it. But it’d soon answer the goal on the power play to start the third.

With Brianna Decker in the box for tripping, a shot from the point got the Americans scrambling in front of Vetter, allowing Wickenheiser to slide through the middle of the ice to Agosta who popped it into a wide-open net for the 1-1 game.

Agosta would go on to make an impact on the other two goals. On the other side, American star Amanda Kessel was held without a point.

Both the U.S. and Canada have already qualified for the medal round, where they could meet again — with slightly more than seeding on the line.

For more images from Canada's 3-2 victory, click on the image below: