The U.S. women's hockey team began the journey of defending its title from the PyeongChang Olympics Thursday morning, and the squad probably couldn't have asked for a better performance. They took down Finland by a score of 5-2 and dominated just about every facet of the game.
Unfortunately, it came at a potentially significant cost.
Near the midway point of the game's first period, star forward Brianna Decker was stretched off the ice after awkwardly getting tangled up with Finnish defender Ronja Savolainen. She remained down on the ice for several minutes before the medical staff wheeled her to the locker room.
Injuries to star players are extremely difficult to overcome, especially in the midst of a game against a strong opponent like Finland. But just a minute after Decker's injury, Amanda Kessel scored a crucial goal to give the U.S. the lead and, more importantly, direct the team's focus back onto the game.
It didn't take long for the U.S. to extend its lead even further. At the 13-minute mark, Alex Carpenter netted a power-play goal off a gorgeous feed from Olympic newcomer Jincy Dunne. The goal came on the United States' first power play of the tournament.
From there, the U.S. began to pull away at the start of the second period. Largely thanks to the play of team captain Kendall Coyne Schofield. Five minutes into the middle frame, Coyne Schofield potted her first goal of the tournament to give the U.S. a three-goal lead. And just 64 seconds later, she scored again off a deflection in front of the net.
The Finns did end up scoring a goal of their own in the third period when Susanna Tapani chalked up a power-play tally, but Carpenter followed Coyne Schofield's lead and scored her second of the night to help the U.S. regain the four-goal lead.
Tapani also ended up scoring a second goal later in the third period, but didn't even know it. In fact, the clock struck zeroes and both teams appeared ready to head back to the locker room when the officials ruled that Tapani had scored with just a couple minutes remaining. The score changed to 5-2 and the game resumed with 2:20 left in the third, but that wasn't nearly enough time for the Finns to orchestrate a comeback.
Overall, it was an extremely impressive performance from the U.S. against a very competitive Finnish squad. Not only did they outshoot the Finns 52-12, but they also extended their record in Olympic openers to 7-0.
Just about everything went right for the Americans Thursday morning, but it's also awfully hard to ignore the black cloud that is the injury to Decker hovering over the team as they prepare for their second game of the tournament.
Decker's status for the remainder of the Olympics is currently unknown.
The U.S. will face off against the ROC Saturday morning at 8:10 a.m. ET.
0:00 - The U.S. is wearing its new white sweaters for their debut at the 2022 Olympics. Finland is donning their absolutely gorgeous blue sweaters, which may just be the best get-up of any hockey team at these Games.
4:01 - Big glove save from Maddie Rooney on a shot that was deflected off a Finn's skate in the low slot. Those are always some of the trickiest stops to make. Not a busy start to the period for Rooney, but a crucial save there.
9:32 - Ronja Savolainen and Brianna Decker collide and Decker stayed down for several minutes. The three-time Olympian had to be stretchered off the ice. The injury didn't look good. The severity of her ailment is unclear at this time, but needless to say, losing Decker would be a gigantic blow for the U.S. as it looks to defend its title.
10:37 - Amanda Kessel scores to give the U.S. an early 1-0 lead over the Finns. She creeped in along the goal line into the low slot and slid the puck into the back of the net for the tally. The U.S. badly needed that goal after the injury to Brianna Decker.
12:05 - The U.S. gets its first power play of the Olympics.
13:00 - Alex Carpenter scores on the power play off a beautiful feed from first-time Olympian Jincy Dunne. U.S. takes the two-goal lead.
14:55 - U.S. takes its first penalty of the game. Hayley Scamurra with the infraction, but the U.S. kills it off.
18:12 - The U.S. gets another chance on the power play. They couldn't convert before the first period expired, so they'll have 13 seconds remaining on the advantage to start the middle stanza.
0:00 - The middle period begins with the U.S. on an abbreviated power play, but they had no luck in their remaining time on the advantage.
5:32 - Kendall Coyne Schofield scores to give the U.S. a three-goal lead. That's the captain's first goal of the tournament.
6:36 - Coyne Schofield scores again with a redirection from the low slot. Two goals for the captain just 64 seconds apart.
10:01 - U.S. gets its third power play of the game. Tanja Niskanen sits for Finland for crosschecking, but the U.S. couldn't convert.
1:49 - Hayley Scamurra heads to the box again to give Finland another power play.
3:15 - Susanna Tapani finally gets the Finns on the board with a goal on the power play. The U.S. had been stingy on defense all game long, but it felt like Finland would break through at some point.
8:01 - Alex Carpenter scores again to help the U.S. regain its four-goal lead. Excellent feed from Abby Roque to set it up. The U.S. will need Carpenter to keep up the strong play with Decker potentially missing time with her lower-body injury.
17:40 - It appeared the U.S. sealed a 5-1 victory when the clock hit zeroes, but it was ruled that Tapani had actually netted a second goal for Finland before the final horn sounded. Both benches thought the tilt had ended, but the game restarted with 2:20 remaining in the third period. Very odd sequence of events.
20:00 - The U.S. officially seals the 5-2 victory over Finland. The injury to Brianna Decker certainly put a damper on things, but even without her in the lineup, it was an impressive performance for the reigning gold medalists.