Team USA is fresh off an exciting shootout victory over Russia in Olympic hockey, and it'll be looking to carry that momentum into its Group A final against Slovenia.
Group A hasn't proven too difficult for Team USA, as the Americans have disposed of Slovakia (7-1) and Russia (3-2) heading into their Feb. 16 clash with Slovenia.
Slovenia, on the other hand, is 1-1 through two contests. It was handled by Russia, 5-2, but earned a win against Slovakia, 3-1. It'll be interesting to see if it will be able to run with Team USA.
The following is a full preview—complete with a final prediction—of Team USA's Group A finale on Feb. 16.
Momentum for Slovenia?
Despite coming into its third game with a record of 1-1, Slovenia is likely carrying a good bit of momentum into the contest.
Its 3-1 win against Slovakia marked the country's first-ever win in Olympic hockey. Slovenia is in its first Winter Olympics and proved to be no match for the likes of Russia. It'll be looking to prove something to the rest of the field against Team USA, though.
Slovenia boasts just one NHL star—Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings—and he netted one of three third-period goals against Slovakia to fuel its victory. After both teams were held scoreless in the first two periods, Slovenia showed its resilience in fighting hard until the end.
It paid off.
Slovenia will look to use that same "fighter" mentality against Team USA. Whether or not it will work remains to be seen, but this team does appear to have a bit of momentum heading into the action.
Is Team USA the Team to Beat?
T.J. Oshie played the hero on Saturday, Feb. 15, winning the shootout against Russia after Team USA goalie Jonathan Quick stood up Russian star Ilya Kovalchuk on his shootout attempt.
Oshie was selected for the team in large part due to his prowess in shootouts, though not all of his teammates knew that about him. Ryan McDonagh told Kevin Allen of USA Today of his surprise: "I've never seen anything quite like that. I never knew he had that in his repertoire, all of those moves."
With Team USA's exhilarating win over the host country, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which it is not the team to beat. The Americans have proven they can hang with one of the toughest teams in the Olympics, and that momentum and confidence should help them to continue on through the latter rounds of the tournament.
Of course, Team USA has yet to butt heads with Canada—another team considered a potential favorite for the gold medal.
Sure, Slovenia's win over Slovakia was both impressive and indicative of the type of mentality it will carry into the game against Team USA. That doesn't mean the same positive results will come from the action, though.
Team USA is simply too well built to lose to a lesser team like Slovenia. While talented, the Slovenians are not nearly on the level of Russia—a team the U.S. just took care of.
Slovenia will put up a fight, though the U.S. should come away with a win. The game will likely end up in between Team USA's contests against Slovakia and Russia in terms of competitiveness.
Look for Team USA to sweep Group A with a 4-1 victory over Slovenia on Feb. 16.
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