PITTSBURGH – Coach Dan Bylsma knows that the disappointing finish of the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team in Sochi will linger.
But now he has shifted his focus back to the Pittsburgh Penguins and looks to get his first-place team to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I don’t think you get rid of the disappointment,” Bylsma said Tuesday. “But you have to put it behind you. The task at hand is coming back here and playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and I think that’s the best way to put it behind you.”
The U.S. nearly knocked off Team Canada in Vancouver in 2010, falling just short of a gold medal and instead settled for silver.
The Americans wanted to win an elusive Olympic hockey gold for the first time since the “Miracle on Ice,” in 1980, and U.S. executives felt Bylsma’s team had the right blend of skill, speed, and grit to get the job done.
The U.S. offense got off to a strong start through the first four games of the tournament, outscoring the opposition 20-6.
Included was the exhilarating, 3-2, eight-round shootout victory against the host Russians, one of the most memorable games of the tournament.
“The Russian game was as unique of a game as I’ve ever coached,” Bylsma said.
“The stage in terms of the tournament doesn’t mean a whole lot because everyone’s going to play a fourth game, but trying to compare it to a Stanley Cup or a Game 7 was completely different. It had a different feel.”
The U.S. cruised past the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, setting up a semifinal showdown with Canada.
“It’s a game we all wanted,” Bylsma said. “Maybe the biggest disappointment is that it wasn’t the gold medal game.”
Regardless, the U.S. had to get through Canada to win gold, and for the second straight time in Olympic competition, the Canadians topped the U.S.
Canada, which went on to win its second straight gold medal, blanked the Americans in a suffocating 1-0 effort that wasn’t as close as the final score.
Bylsma was criticized after the loss, some drawing comparisons to the Boston Bruins’ four-game sweep of a punchless Penguins’ team, which had trouble scoring during the 2013 Eastern Conference finals.
“You can draw the comparisons, but I don’t know if they’re valid or applicable,” Bylsma said. “The one thing we would like to go back to in that game was playing faster and playing quicker, allowing us to be on the forecheck in a better manner.”
Penguins GM Ray Shero, also the associate general manager for Team USA, credited Team Canada.
“That might be the greatest Olympic hockey team ever,” Shero said. “You can look at how we wanted to play, but sometimes the opponent doesn’t let you get to your game.”
The Canadians, who never trailed in the tournament, flexed their defensive muscle, allowing just three goals in six games to become the first team in 30 years to go unbeaten through an Olympic tournament.
“Canada was very good,” Shero said. “We came in with high expectations and there’s nothing wrong with setting a high goal.”
Both wanted to see a different outcome after a humiliating 5-0 defeat the following day against Finland in the bronze medal game.
“The bronze medal game was a tough one for us to rebound and get to,” Bylsma said. “That’s the biggest disappointment of the tournament.”
But now the attention shifts back to Bylsma’s Penguins where Olympians Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz are back with gold medals from Team Canada, while Jussi Jokinen and Olli Maatta earned bronze with Finland.
Bylsma returned empty-handed along with U.S. Olympians Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, who broke his hand in the quarterfinal round and is out four to six weeks.
Russian star Evgeni Malkin is also without a medal, motivation that Bylsma hopes will further fuel a deep playoff run for the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins. The Penguins return to action when they host Montreal on Thursday.
“We have 24 games to get back and focus on this team being the best it can be, getting to the Stanley Cup and winning it,” Bylsma said.