GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – The Canadians are playing on their favorite stage at the Olympics, and their top line of captain Marie-Philip Poulin, Megan Agosta and Melodie Daoust is peaking at just the right time.
Agosta and Daoust each had a goal and an assist, and Canada beat Finland 4-1 Tuesday in pursuit of the country’s fifth straight Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey. Poulin added a goal as the line combined for five points.
“The three of them together obviously can create some magic for us, and they sure have done that for us in the last two games,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said.
With the win, the Canadians now have outscored consecutive opponents 9-1 going into their preliminary round showdown Thursday with their biggest rival, the United States.
Captain Marie-Philip Poulin and Jillian Saulnier also scored. Shannon Szabados made 22 saves for the win.
Szabados just missed the shutout when she couldn’t get her right leg out in time to stop a rebound.
“I think the ‘W’ is a little more important,” Szabados said.
Finland came to the Olympics ranked third in the world and hoping to put together one perfect game against the powerful North Americans. Now the two-time bronze medalists can only hope for another chance at the Pyeongchang Games after losing to the United States 3-1 to open pool play.
The Finns upset Canada in pool play of the world championships last spring and lost the rematch in the semifinals. They hope to flip that this time around.
Finland coach Pasi Mustonen said his team is on a journey trying to reach the decisive game that could let the Finns play for more than just a bronze medal.
“That’s the game we want to win,” Mustonen said.
The puck had barely dropped when Daoust and Agosta broke out on a 2-on-1, and goalie Noora Raty went down expecting Daoust to shoot only to see her send a cross-ice pass to Agosta for the easy sweep just 35 seconds in.
Poulin made it 2-0 off one of the easiest turnovers possible. Jenni Hiirikoski had the puck bounce up off her stick, Poulin grabbed it away and beat Raty with a backhander top shelf. The horn blew, but play continued. Officials ruled the goal good after a review, but Canada lost a goal on review with 4.5 seconds left in the period.
It didn’t matter as Doust made it 3-0 with her third goal of the tournament at 8:19 of the second on a shot from the left circle. Jillian Saulnier finished off a breakaway by beating Raty’s stick at 18:26 for a 4-0 lead.
Finland avoided the shutout when Riikka Valili beat Szabados’ outstretched right skate at 7:17 of the third. Szabados made an easy pad save when Susanna Tapani tried to score on a short-handed breakaway midway through the period.
“Fantastic shooters in female hockey they don’t really grow on trees,” Mustonen said. “So there’s always a problem with scoring. It’s an even bigger problem with the European teams.”