By Steve Keating
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The United States delivered an early knockout punch with six goals in the first period and cruised into the Olympic men's ice hockey final with a ruthless 6-1 win over Finland on Friday.
The U.S. now await the winner of the other semi-final between Canada and Slovakia who clash later on Friday for a spot in Sunday's final where the last medals of the Vancouver Games will be decided.
American fans in the capacity crowd left no doubt who they want to see in the showdown for gold, shouting "We want Canada, We want Canada" as the finals seconds in an unexpected rout ticked off the clock.
Embracing the underdog role, Team USA general manager Brian Burke said before the Games began there would not be a penny bet in Las Vegas on his young squad winning gold.
But the Americans are now assured at least a silver and are just one win away from joining the 1960 Squaw Valley and 1980 Miracle on Ice teams as Olympic champions.
"We're definitely coming away with a medal... our team believed all along we could win a gold medal and that's what our goal is still," U.S. forward Patrick Kane, who scored two goals in the win, told reporters. "We just want to win a gold medal, it doesn't matter who it is against."
There were early signs it was going to be a long day for the Finns when Miikka Kiprusoff charged out of his net to clear the puck only to put it right on the stick of Ryan Malone, who happily buried it into the open net.
Kiprusoff never recovered from the blunder, Zach Parise, Erik Johnson and Patrick Kane all putting pucks past the wobbly netminder as the first period hit the midway mark.
After giving up four goals on seven shots, Finland coach Jukka Jalonen pulled Kiprusoff in favor of Niklas Backstrom, who immediately received a rude welcome with Kane and Paul Stastny scoring 15 seconds apart.
The stunned Finns exited the ice after the first period looking as if they had been run over by the resurfacing machine.
"I have never have been in a game (like that) where it's over after six minutes... it's embarrassing," said Finn Teemu Selanne, the Olympic all-time leading scorer. "If you take penalties you have to kill them...it was a nightmare."
There was no way back for the Turin silver medalists as the Americans eased off the gas and netminders Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas shut the door on any thoughts of a comeback.
Miller, who has allowed just five goals in the tournament and none in the last five periods, played most of the game until giving backup Tim Thomas his first taste of Olympic action.
Antti Miettinen's third period powerplay goal spoilt the U.S. shutout but not the party as the Americans reached their first Olympic final since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games where they lost to Canada.
(Additional reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Ed Osmond)