SOCHI, Russia -- All right, let's try to find an upbeat angle. How about this? No one on the USA Olympic hockey team is busting up furniture this time.
That was the aftermath in 1998 at the Nagano Games, when the American men were eliminated early. They infamously trashed their apartments at the Olympic Village.
From all reports, nothing like that took place here Saturday after the USA lost to Finland 5-0 in the bronze medal game at Bolshoy Ice Dome.
On the other hand, it was hard to explain exactly what did occur -- or why -- in the USA's ignominious Finnish faceplant. The loss came right on the heels of Friday's 1-0 semifinal loss to Canada.
"Definitely disappointing," said the Sharks' Joe Pavelski, who won a silver medal four years ago in Vancouver along with 12 other members of the current USA team. "There was a lot to play for today. That was talked about a lot in our room. We wanted to score. That's why you play the game. We wanted to win the game a lot more than it showed."
The result was staggering to witness, honestly. Over a span of a little more than 24 hours, the USA hockey team went from a serious gold medal threat to a no-medal, no-goal, no-excuse-for-it humiliation.
In the first four games of the Olympic tournament, the USA scored 20 goals. In the last two games, zero goals.
No doubt, there was a challenge for the American players in trying to recover from a disheartening loss Friday that eliminated any chance of a gold medal.
But these guys are professionals. In the National Hockey League, they rebound and recover from bad losses all the time. Plus, there had to be some American pride involved in trying to at least win a bronze consolation prize. Right?
Maybe not. Or not enough of it, anyway.
"I don't know, I think this all started yesterday," said USA team captain Zach Parise, who manned up and absorbed his share of the blame. "We didn't show up to play a tough team in Canada. We lost.
"And today, I thought we had a pretty good start. But once we got down, once they got that first goal, we kind of deflated. They played like they had something to win, and we just kind of shut it down. In the last two games we didn't play good enough to win and we didn't deserve to win."
Finland had something to do with that, of course. It's a hockey-loving nation. But it's also a nation of just 5.4 million people. That's smaller than the population of the entire Bay Area. The Finnish roster was also split between NHL players and skaters from the European leagues. The USA roster, exclusively made up of accomplished NHL employees, was a superior roster.
The Finns, though, failed to receive the memo. They never seem to get the memo. The NHL has now participated in five Olympics. In those five Olympics, Finland has won three bronze medals and one silver medal. The USA, by comparison, has won just two silver medals.
Antti Niemi, the Sharks' goalie, was suited up Saturday as Finland's backup behind starter Tuukka Rask. Niemi did not play a minute of the tournament but was as excited as if he had scored the winning goal. He tried to explain what it all meant to his countrymen.
"This is a huge thing," Niemi said. "Hockey is the No. 1 sport in Finland. It's too bad we didn't get gold or silver. But winning the bronze is next best. I think this is how we always are as a country. We want to win the most, battle the most."
The USA was winning most of the little battles and dominated the puck in the first period. But it ended scoreless. Finland then began the second period with two stunning goals over an 11-second span -- with the eternally ageless Teemu Selanne flipping a backhander past USA goalie Jonathan Quick, followed by the eternally anonymous Jussi Jokinen scoring the second goal when Quick was caught leaning the wrong way.
Still, there was plenty of hockey left. The USA was supposed to have the firepower to overcome a 2-0 deficit. Yet the Americans went completely haywire. They lost their disciplined structure and started playing individually. Dan Bylsma, the head coach, kept stubbornly using the same forward line match-ups that weren't working. Finland took advantage and found a way to score another goal, then another, then another.
Even when USA forward Patrick Kane was awarded two penalty shots -- on two separate penalties -- there was no sign of life. Kane missed both shots, the first on a save by Rask and the second when Kane hit the crossbar.
"No excuses, wasn't good enough," Kane said. "We wanted to come out there with something instead of nothing. We really did not expect it to be like that. I wasn't good enough to help the team win a medal. I was expected to do a lot more."
They all were. Afterward, they were generally disgusted. This USA team was supposedly selected with the notion of finding gritty players who would complement each other and find cohesion over a short tournament. Saturday, all that cohesion became invisible glue. That was the international mystery.
The USA has four years to solve the mystery and find the answer. Maybe they should look under the non-broken furniture.
Mark Purdy compliments Sochi but won't vacation there.
How Sharks are faring. PAGE 5