SOCHI, Russia -- Ever since 1980 and the Miracle On Ice, the USA men's hockey team has been seeking another Olympic gold medal.

On Friday night here at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, the USA couldn't even find one goal.

One stinking goal.

One stinking goal that could have made all the difference, miraculous or otherwise.

One stinking goal that could have tied Canada and sent the game into overtime, where you never know what might have happened.

What happened instead? Canada scored early in the second period of an impossibly fast-paced Olympic semifinal game, then frustrated the USA to the finish line for a 1-0 victory.

"We didn't create enough chances, didn't get enough 'Grade A' chances," said Joe Pavelski, the USA forward from the San Jose Sharks who was visibly disappointed afterward.

With good cause. Over the past 10 days, Pavelski and his American teammates had established themselves as a gold medal threat by ripping pucks into the net with abandon. Before Friday, they had scored more goals than any other team in the Games.

But on Friday night, Canada shut off the USA faucet. And wouldn't you just know it? One major reason for Pavelski's frustration was the play of the Sharks' two other representatives in the game -- Canada forward Patrick Marleau and Canada defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

In fact, Marleau's three-man forward unit was almost always on the ice against Pavelski's unit when the coaches sent out line changes. Once, Marleau was even whistled for a penalty against Pavelski as he broke into the USA's offensive zone. A clear case of Shark-on-Shark crime. The call: holding the stick.

"He was trying to push me back," Marleau said with a slight grin. "And my hand got over the top of his stick. I'll talk to Pavs about that later."

It was nearly sooner. A few minutes after the final horn, Pavelski walked by Marleau in the "mixed zone" beneath the arena where players from both teams meet the media in an awkward cattle-pen situation.

Pavelski, upon request, stopped for an interview with a Bay Area News Group reporter. He wound up standing right next to Marleau, who turned and appeared ready to say something to his San Jose teammate -- but then sensed the time was not right. So Marleau simply reached out and gave a wordless pat to Pavelski's lower back before heading to the locker room.

It was a poignant moment. Marleau and Pavelski have been through this before. Four years ago, at the Vancouver Winter Olympics gold medal game, Canada beat the USA in overtime. Marleau's team was the winner that afternoon, too.

Pavelski must be getting tired of this.

One stinking goal.

"We knew we needed just that one play, that one chance to go in," Pavelski said. "But we didn't get it."

More accurately, Canada didn't let them get it. Canada was committed to not letting them get it. Canada's offense has had trouble scoring throughout the tournament -- so for this game, coach Mike Babcock emphasized defense above all. For every player. At every position.

Vlasic, the Sharks' representative on Canada's defensive backline, analyzed the result as well as anyone.

"We don't score many goals, so I saw a defensive game coming in this one," he said. "Even the most offensive-minded players in the league were defensive tonight for us. Our forwards caught their guys before the blue line and took away space. The USA has the best offense in the tournament, in my opinion. We had to find a way to stop it. We played great defense."

The USA, with goalie Jonathan Quick stopping 36 of 37 shots, also made a solid defensive commitment. This led to a rapid-paced game with a lot of movement on both sides, but few real juicy scoring opportunities. Despite the larger-sized international ice rink, the teams didn't find much room to move.

For the American skaters, the space shrunk even more after Canada scored the game's only goal -- when defenseman Jay Bouwmeester purposely shot a puck wide of the net into open space, where forward Jamie Benn's stick suddenly appeared and deflected it up purposely over Quick.

One stinking goal.

Given the lead, Canada's bigger and stronger forwards went into full defensive posture. They neutralized the USA speed by muscling the smaller Americans away from the prime shooting zone in front of the net -- even on power plays.

Canada also won lots of faceoffs (Pavelski uncharacteristically lost 10 of his 12 draws, usually against Jonathan Toews but once against Marleau) and after winning them, played with the puck as long as possible in its offensive zone.

"The more we were in their zone, the better for us," Vlasic said.

The bummed-out Pavelski said that Friday's loss was just as disappointing as the gold medal game defeat in Vancouver four years ago, even if that one was for a gold medal and this was a semifinal. USA's Ryan Suter pulled no punches in saying that Friday's loss was far more maddening.

"We sat back, we were passive," he said. "You can't play scared. I thought we sat on our heels and just didn't take it to them at all. We had motivation. We just didn't take it on the ice."

That critique might have been too harsh. But it would have been nice to see the USA get uglier and dirtier. They'll have a chance to do that Saturday in the bronze medal game against Finland, which lost to Sweden in the other Olympic semifinal.

"We get one more time to wear red, white and blue here," said USA forward David Backes, who was as upset as Pavelski. "We have one more chance to win a medal and make this trip worth it."

Know how they can start? By scoring one stinking goal.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/MercPurdy.