It is finally, nearly, here: The most important game of the group round for both Canada and Finland.
Both teams have pushed aside the hapless Norwegian and Austrian entries with relative ease; Norway played a tight game against Canada, and the Austrians found some scoring punch versus the Finns, but in all four games, it was clear that Canada and Finland were in control.
This is a high-stakes game. Not only will it be the first time each team faces off against an Olympic medal contender, but it will also have important ramifications for seeding during the elimination phase of the tournament. Read on to see viewing information, expected lineups and important things to watch for during the contest.
The game starts Sunday at noon ET and will be both streamed and broadcast live in the United States and Canada. In the United States, viewers can watch live on USA Network, while in Canada, CBC will carry the contest live.
Who wins Group B?
Going into the tournament, it seemed clear that Canada and Finland were going to be the two teams battling to win their group, and so far there have been no surprises. The team that wins Sunday's game will get a bye past the qualification round; the team that loses faces the possibility of an extra elimination game.
Will Canada's top line contribute offensively?
Team Canada has played two games against underwhelming opponents, and Sidney Crosby has just a single assist—an assist that came, not with his regular linemates, but on a goal by Jeff Carter shortly after an expired penalty. The Canadians need the Crosby line to lead the way, and head coach Mike Babcock has some tough choices to make there.
Who starts in net?
Both teams have interesting storylines in net. The Canadians entered the tournament with questions in the crease, and nothing's really been settled by the first two games. Roberto Luongo hasn't allowed a goal, but Carey Price didn't look bad against Norway, either. Babcock could make either choice with a clear conscience. The Finnish situation seemed clearer, but Tuukka Rask had a rocky outing against Austria, and Kari Lehtonen was much better versus Norway.
- Patrick Marleau—Sidney Crosby—Jeff Carter
- Matt Duchene—Ryan Getzlaf—Corey Perry
- Patrick Sharp—Jonathan Toews—Rick Nash
- Jamie Benn—John Tavares—Patrice Bergeron
- Martin St. Louis
- Duncan Keith—Shea Weber
- Marc-Edouard Vlasic—Drew Doughty
- Dan Hamhuis—Alex Pietrangelo
- P.K. Subban
- Roberto Luongo
- Carey Price
- Mikael Granlund—Aleksander Barkov—Teemu Selanne
- Lauri Korpikoski—Olli Jokinen—Tuomo Ruutu
- Jussi Jokinen—Petri Kontiola—Juhamatti Aaltonen
- Leo Komarov—Jarkko Immonen—Jori Lehtera
- Kimmo Timonen—Sami Vatanen
- Olli Maatta—Sami Salo
- Sami Lepisto—Juuso Hietanen
- Ossi Vaananen—Lasse Kukkonen
- Kari Lehtonen
- Tuukka Rask
Mikael Granlund, Finland
Granlund has been a pleasant surprise for Finland, stepping into key offensive minutes and providing a hefty scoring punch. With fewer than 75 NHL games on his resume, there's a decent chance this tournament will be the one that really impresses him on the minds of hockey fans outside of Minnesota. It will be interesting to see if he can translate that play to a game against Canada.
Duncan Keith, Canada
Unsurprisingly, Keith has emerged as the time-on-ice leader for Team Canada. With four solid right-shooting defenceman but only one elite-level left-handed shot, Keith is the most vital cog on the blue line and the only guy on the left side who isn't a fringe player for the team.
Patrick Marleau, Canada
Marleau was a debatable inclusion on the Canadian roster, but he leads the team in scoring with four assists through two games and a plus-four rating. He's arguably been Canada's best left wing through two games, and if he can keep it up, he will solidify one of the weaker positions on the roster.
The only certainty here is uncertainty.
Canada has two high-end NHL starters. Roberto Luongo, as the Canadian incumbent starter and with a shutout against Austria, seems the probable choice of head coach Mike Babcock. However, Carey Price also has a sterling resume and could conceivably get the call. In either case, Canada should get a strong effort.
Finland, too, has a choice to make. Tuukka Rask might be the best goalie in the NHL today, but he didn't play very well against Austria in his start earlier this week. Kari Lehtonen is a very good goaltender and in the same ballpark as either Price or Luongo and played well against Norway, so he could also be the choice.
Regardless of the decisions the coaches of both teams make, there will be questions in net on either side and a reasonable likelihood of strong play.
Canada, like most well-coached teams these days, seems to be focusing more on getting the defensive details right than finding optimum scoring. There's a rationale for that; given the talent on the Canadian roster, it seems reasonable to assume the offence will take care of itself.
That's not necessarily going to be the case against Finland. The Canadian entry in Turin ran into trouble because they couldn't score at critical junctures; that team was never blown out of a game, but it didn't matter because it could not generate sustained offensive pressure.
Thus far, Canada's attack has not been especially formidable, but there were encouraging signs against Austria. The Finns will try to slow the game down and nag the Canadians at every turn; if Canada can overcome that constant defensive pressure, they will win.
When Finland took home silver at the 2006 Olympics, they did it by negating the firepower of tougher opponents, allowing just eight goals over the course of eight games. They beat highly touted teams from Canada and Russia in shutouts, smothering arguably the two most capable offensive teams on the planet.
They are once again built to win close games, with in-their-prime high-profile scorers essentially nonexistent on the team. What they have is a workmanlike group high on tenacity and intelligence.
The Finns simply can't compete with Canada in terms of scoring power. If they are to win, they need to make Sunday's match a low-event contest.
The last time these two teams met on an Olympic stage was 2006 in Turin. Canada, coming off of a 2-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Swiss, fell to the Finns by the same score in a game where the Canadians only managed 24 shots on Finnish starter Antero Niittymaki.
It says here that history won't repeat itself. Canada is better prepared for the challenge Finland faces than they were in 2006 and more equipped to score goals in this tournament.
Predicted score: Canada 3, Finland 1