SOCHI, Russia -- It began as an opportunity to extend a win streak. It ended as another display of the long-contested rivalry that has made the United States and Canada international powers in women's ice hockey.
The U.S. fell to Canada, 3-2, in the last game of the Group A preliminary round at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Shayba Arena Wednesday.
Team USA entered the first game of the women's tournament against Canada with a three-game winning streak in a pre-Olympic series. The U.S. had won four of the overall seven games against their North American rivals.
"I'm a little indifferent about how our team played today," said U.S. head coach Katey Stone. "Our defensive support was not what it's typically been in the last two months and that's an area we can continue to work on."
The U.S. and Canada played a close game with nearly equal shots throughout. After almost two scoreless periods, forward Hilary Knight put Team USA ahead by redirecting a shot past Canadian goaltender Charline Labonte.
Knight tipped the puck off a slapshot by teammate Anne Schleper on a U.S. power play. The U.S. appeared to be a slight step ahead until Canada took control in the third period.
"Both teams were aggressive," Knight said. "You'll get our top game when we play one another and that's the great thing. We are both good teams and we are competitive."
The Canadians were afforded several breakaways opportunities but were unable to get past an impressive barrier in U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter. They eventually connected on a power play of their own 2:21 into the third period.
Six-time Olympian and long-time opponent Hayley Wickenheiser picked up an assist on Canada's first goal by Meghan Agosta on the power play. One minute and 33 seconds later, Wickenheiser pulled Canada ahead of the U.S. with a controversial goal that appeared to glide passed Vetter after the whistle was blown.
Stone, who said she heard the whistle before the goal, asked the officials to check the play. Canada was awarded the goal after the review.
"What are you going do? That's what happens,” Stone said. “There was a lot of time left in the game at that point so I’m not going to hang my hat on that one. We can play better.”
"It doesn't matter how they go in,” Wickenheiser said of her goal. “Sometimes it's an ugly one. It's one we really needed to have and fortunately it went our way today."
Agosta made it 3-1 for Canada on a breakaway. Schleper gave Team USA a second goal 65 seconds before the final whistle but the team could not keep its three-game win streak going Wednesday.
"We are a relentless team," Knight said. "We've taken some hits and we'll come back from it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the greatest puck luck today, but we'll come back a stronger team next time."
The U.S. and Canada entered Wednesday’s contest with similar records, having both won their games against Group A competitors Finland and Switzerland.
Team USA heads into Monday’s seminal game as the No. 2 seed and will learn its next opponent this weekend.
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