Dustin Brown banged in a go-ahead goal late in the first period and the Americans went on to dominate the Czech Republic 5-2 Wednesday to earn a spot in the semifinals for the third time in four Olympics.
The U.S. went on to play in the gold-medal game in 2010 and 2002 and lost each time to the Canadians.
When the Americans’ coach, Dan Bylsma, was asked to look ahead to the matchup, he took a deep breath and paused for several seconds to gather his thoughts.
“We knew we were going to have some big games prior to this point in time, but you were looking forward to the possibility of this rematch,” he said.
While the Canadians had to hold off Latvia 2-1, the U.S. might be peaking at the right time to improve its chances to win Olympic hockey gold for the first time since the “Miracle on Ice,” in 1980.
After a day off, the countries that share a long border in North America and generally friendly relations will meet on Friday for the chance to become hockey champions of the Sochi Games.
The U.S. has been tested only once, in a 3-2, eight-round shootout against the host Russians in the preliminary round. The Americans crushed the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia by a combined score of 17-4.
Meanwhile, a Russian hockey team with immense expectations lost its shot at an Olympic title when Finland beat the Russians 3-1, knocking them out of the quarterfinals and ending their chances of winning a hockey gold medal in front of their own fans.
It was a loss that was crushing to many Russians. This was supposed be the team to end a 22-year gold medal drought and provide a hopeful nation with the defining moment of an Olympics on home turf.
Instead, they were a massive flop, and the fans in attendance had difficulty reconciling the failure.
“For seven years we have been waiting and preparing for the Olympics and most of all we waited for the ice hockey and today it was a catastrophe and shame for Russia,” said Sergey Kazakov, a 58-year-old retiree from Moscow.