By Dan Burns
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - The U.S. cruised into their third straight gold medal game appearance in the Olympic women's ice hockey tournament on Monday, shutting down Finland 5-0 in semi-finals with help from a pair of goals by Dani Cameranesi and a shutout from goaltender Maddie Rooney.
In the kind of offensive burst that U.S. coach Robb Stauber has been waiting for, the Americans, silver medalists in Sochi and Vancouver, converted on three of six power plays and outshot the Finns by a roughly three-to-one margin. Heading into the game the U.S. had been one-for-11 on the power play during the tournament.
"You know I look at the shots on goal, and we maybe had 39 tonight," Stauber said. "The other nights we had 44, 50, etcetera, and we didn't score as much. Our plan coming in was to repeat the good habits that we talked about earlier in the tournament. You're going to get rewarded."
The Americans, who showed little resemblance to the team that had to come from behind against Finland in their first meeting, went out front early in the first period.
Their captain Meghan Duggan carried the puck behind the Finland net and fed line mate Gigi Marvin in the slot and she one-timed it past goaltender Noora Raty.
Cameranesi added to the lead late in the period. She intercepted an attempted clearing pass by Susanna Tapani in the Finnish zone and skated uncontested in on Raty and went top shelf with a wrist shot.
The U.S. broke it open in the second period on a pair of powerplay goals 34 seconds apart.
On the first of the two Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson blasted a slap shot past Raty off a feed from Kelly Pannek with two seconds remaining on a two-player advantage. Then Hilary Knight made it 4-0, redirecting a shot from the point by Sidney Morin.
"We were in there for quite a while, so I knew they were tired," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "I was just trying to tee it up, get it on net."
Cameranesi's second came inside the first minute of the third period, again on the powerplay. Amanda Kessel, sister of Pittsburg Penguins forward Phil, took a cross ice pass and fed the puck low to Hannah Brandt by the left goal post. Brandt quickly got it to Cameranesi who beat Raty high on the glove side.
"I saw Hannah Brandt and Amanda Kessel working hard in the corners and gave me nice passes and opportunities out in the slot, so both of those goals I owe it to both of my line mates," Cameranesi said.
The U.S. must now await the outcome of Monday night's game between four-time gold medalists Canada and the Olympic Athletes from Russia to see who they play in Thursday's final. Canada is heavily favoured to prevail and advance to the final against the Americans.
Stauber said the Finland game was a solid set-up game for the final.
"Tonight we beat a very good goaltender and a very good hockey team," he said. "I'm extremely thankful. This was really a gold medal preparation for us because they're a darn good team."
It is the fifth gold medal game appearance in six Olympic tournaments for the American women. Women's ice hockey was introduced as an Olympic event in Nagano, Japan, in 1998, and the U.S. won that first one, but Canada has won all four since.
Finland now proceeds to the bronze medal game on Wednesday against the loser of the Canada-Russia game. The Finns have won bronze twice previously, in 1998 and in 2010 at Vancouver.
(Reporting By Dan Burns; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)