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Canada and USA battle once again for Women's Worlds supremacy

After dispatching Finland in the semis, Canada heads to the gold medal game against the United States Saturday in Malmo.
After dispatching Finland in the semis, Canada heads to the gold medal game against the United States Saturday in Malmo.

You see it all the time, especially in hockey. It's a game of mistakes; all it takes is one to send an entire team into disarray. A missed pass, a fall, a weird bounce.

Unfortunately for Finland, its biggest mistake came right to the stick of Natalie Spooner at the start of the third period of the Women's World Championship semifinal, and she made good on it.

At that point, the Finns were only down 1-0 and, while not getting a ton of looks at Ann-Renee Desbiens, were playing a good trap game and getting a stellar performance in net from Meeri Raisanen, who ended the game with 40 saves. But just 25 seconds into the final frame, Raisanen played the puck directly off her defender, Finnish captain Jenni Hiirikoski, and it bounced right to Spooner for a gift of a goal to make it 2-0.

Earlier, Canada had taken the lead on a power play goal by Marie-Philip Poulin, as Finland was called for too many skaters on the ice. And then, halfway through the third, Spooner scored a beautiful second goal, picking up the puck from Eve Savander who had taken a spill after accidentally being clipped by the skate of Caroline Ouellette, who was headed to the bench. She took advantage of an out-of-position Anna Kilponen, deking smoothly around her and backhanding it past Raisanen for the back-breaker.

Those were the only cracks in the facade of a strong defensive team in Finland, but they were enough for Canada to win the game, 3-0, and face off against (surprise!) the United States for a chance to reclaim a gold medal they lost in 2013. It's a shame for the Finns, but that's how it goes. With more scoring finesse, I'm sure they could be right there with the two best teams in the world, but they really aren't far off as it stands now.

As for Canada, they've been playing strong, well-rounded hockey, scoring when they've needed to score and getting big saves from their goalies, particularly Desbiens (who looked solid against Finland and has shutouts in both of her starts in her Worlds debut). Overall, they look to have shaken off the first game against the U.S. entirely, which should make for an interesting final matchup Saturday.

The Canadians come into a matchup against the most offensively dominant team in the tournament, who just finished off Russia 13-1 early Friday heading into the gold medal game. The U.S. surprisingly allowed the first goal, but got it back and then some, with its top two scorers (Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight) combining for seven points. Monique Lamoureux had four points of her own, and youngsters Hannah Brandt, Haley Skarupa, Zoe Hickel and Lee Stecklein also chipped in, among others. Although Decker and Knight definitely make up a large chunk of this offense, I think the Americans have enough depth to make Canada worry about more than just those two.

Jessie Vetter will more than likely be the goalie in net, and she's got plenty of experience playing against this Canadian team. Meanwhile for Canada, it's kind of a toss-up between Desbiens and Genevieve Lacasse, who played the first game against the U.S. and will likely want a rematch. Lacasse also has experience with the dynamic duo for Team USA (she plays with them on the CWHL's Boston Blades). Still, do you go with that or do you go with the goalie who's technically had the better tournament and might just have the hot glove, so to speak? We'll see Saturday morning, where the puck drops at 8 a.m. MDT (10 a.m. EDT) and will be televised across the TSN Network. Meanwhile, Finland and Russia will play for bronze at 4 a.m. MDT (6 a.m. EDT).

Japan Stays in Top Division: Kanae Aoki scored a power-play goal in overtime to lift Japan to a 2-1 win Friday in the second game of the best-of-three relegation round, keeping her country in the top division for 2016. Japan won both games by a single goal (they won Tuesday's game 3-2). Nana Fujimoto was stellar in net, making 21 saves on 22 shots and finishing the tournament with a 93.7 save percentage. Germany heads back down to Division I for the first time in seven years.