Russia vs. Finland: Preview and Prediction for 2014 Olympic Hockey Game

Adrian DaterNHL National ColumnistFebruary 18, 2014

Russia vs. Finland: Preview and Prediction for 2014 Olympic Hockey Game

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    Martin Rose/Getty Images

    Hope you got your rest, Russians.

    Having to beat the Norwegians the day before just to get into the men's hockey quarterfinals, Russia has a quick turnaround in playing a rested Finland team on Wednesday. 

    The Russians, as has been the case throughout the tournament, were unimpressive in beating Norway—at least offensively. Where is the vaunted offense that we all thought would light up the arenas in Sochi? 

    The good news for the Russians is that they still have the home-ice advantage, which theoretically will become bigger as the tourney moves along. But the Russians are going to have to be better to beat a disciplined Finnish squad that has more offensive talent than Norway, not to mention perhaps the best goaltending trio of these Games.

    It figures to be a compelling game, as the host Russians try to stay alive. 

    Here's all the viewing information, potential lineups and what to expect from this fun game.

TV and Live Stream Info

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    Associated Press

    The puck will drop at 7:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday and can be seen on the NBC Sports Network. In Canada, it's on the CBC.

    For live Internet streaming, go to NBCOlympics.com; in Canada, go to Olympics.cbc.ca.

Top Storylines

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    Associated Press

    Who should get the start in goal for the Russians?

    Sergei Bobrovski, who got the shutout win in Tuesday's must-win over Norway? Or Semyon Varlamov, who posted a shutout a couple of days age in a critical win over Slovakia?

    It has to be a tough choice for Russia coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, who has all the pressure on him in this tournament as it is. Conventional wisdom says he should stick with the hot goalie, even if there's a game the next day. 

    So, why did the Russian coach go to Bobrovski, right after Varlamov shut out the Slovaks? All we know is, if the Russians lose this game, everyone from Siberia to Moscow will be second-guessing Bilyaletdinov's decision. All he'll hear for the next four years is, "You should have started the other goalie," if this proves to be Russia's final game.

     

    Do the Finns have enough offense to advance?

    Finland could manage only a Tuomo Ruutu goal in its final preliminary game against Canada. The loss of No. 2 NHL draft pick Aleksander Barkov and Minnesota Wild star Mikko Koivu has put a dent in the offense so far.

    One wonders if this will be it for this offensively challenged bunch. The Finns had no trouble scoring goals against Austria and Norway in the preliminaries, but they struggled against Canada and now have to face a team that hasn't allowed a goal in the last two games.

    On the other hand, they don't need a lot of goals thanks to their goaltending, with Tuukka Rask the likely starter for the Finns. He left the ice first after the Finns' practice on Tuesday, which is the customary tell for the starter.

Team Russia Projected Lineup

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    Associated Press

    Forwards (Subject to change)

    • Alexander Ovechkin – Yevgeni Malkin – Alexander Semin
    • Ilya Kovalchuk – Pavel Datsyuk – Alexander Radulov
    • Vladimir Tarasenko – Artyom Anisimov – Nikolai Kulyomin
    • Alexander Popov – Alexei Tereshchenko – Valeri Nichushkin
    • Extras: Viktor Tikhonov, Alexander Svitov

    Defense

    • Andrei Markov – Vyacheslav Voynov
    • Anton Belov – Nikita Nikitin
    • Alexei Yemelin – Evgeny Medvedev
    • Extras: Ilya Nikulin, Fyodor Tyutin

    Goaltenders

    • Semyon Varlamov
    • Sergei Bobrovski
    • Alexander Eremenko

Team Finland Projected Lineup

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    Petr David Josek/Associated Press

    Forwards 

    • Mikael Granlund - Jarko Immonen - Teemu Selanne
    • Jussi Jokinen - Olli Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
    • Lauri Korpikoski - Petri Kontiola - Juhamatti Aaltonen
    • Leo Komarov - Jori Lehtera - Antti Pihlstrom

    Defense

    • Kimmo Timonen - Sami Vatanen
    • Olli Maatta - Sami Salo
    • Sami Lepisto - Juuso Hietanen
    • Extras: Lasse Kukkonen - Ossi Vaananen

    Goaltenders

    • Tuukka Rask
    • Kari Lehtonen
    • Antti Niemi

Key Skaters

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Alexander Ovechkin, Russia

    He scored a goal just 1:17 into his first Olympic game, but since then the Great No. 8's stick has cooled considerably. Obviously, the time is now for that to start going the other way again.

    The lack of production from him and others on the power play has been the most disconcerting thing so far for the Russians in the tournament. But it would be a surprise if Ovechkin doesn't bring it from here on out. His whole country is counting on him.

     

    Jarkko Immonen, Finland

    Don't know much about him? You're not alone, but he has the considerable task of replacing the injured Aleksander Barkov at center on the first line, between Mikael Granlund and Teemu Selanne.

    Immonen played 20 games for the New York Rangers between 2005-07, scoring three goals and eight points. He has been a solid performer in the KHL the last several years. He'll need to have the game of his life, if Finland is to have a realistic shot at gold.

     

    Teemu Selanne, Finland

    The ageless wonder always seems to get better as games get bigger. You know he'd like nothing more than to knock out the home country on its ice. He suffered an upper-body injury early in the tourney but is soldiering on.

Goaltender Breakdown

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Sergei Bobrovski, Semyon Varlamov, Russia

    Well after Bobrovski shut out the Norwegians to advance to this game, Russia coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov would not say who would start in net against the Finns.

    So, let the debate begin as to who should get the nod. While Bobrovski got the win Tuesday, many think Varlamov should be the guy after his sterling performance in a 1-0 shootout win over Slovakia—a much tougher opponent than Norway.

    We'll see. All we know is that the Russians haven't allowed a goal in the last 140 minutes, 33 seconds. Goaltending hasn't been the problem with this squad so farthat's for sure.

     

    Tuukka Rask, Finland

    He's been very good, as one would expect of any Finnish goalie in a tournament game. He's so quick side-to-side and has proved himself at the NHL level in big games, getting to a Stanley Cup Final last season with the Bruins.

    He took the Canadians to overtime in the preliminaries, allowing just one goal in regulation. He could prove to be the toughest goalie the Russians face in the whole tourney.

Team Russia Will Win If...

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    It can get its power play going

    Entering Tuesday, the Russians have to win four games in six days to get their first gold medal in 22 years. The only way that can happen is if they can start getting some easier goals. They have take the pressure off not only the top forwards but the goaltenders and everyone else who is pulling for Russia in the stands.

    "Everybody knows we have such a good, talented team on offense. We just try to keep our energy and keep our emotion. It's working, and (on Wednesday) we're going to have emotions and strength for the quarterfinals," Ovechkin told The Associated Press (via ESPN) after Tuesday's win over Norway.

    The power play is where easy goals are scored, comparatively speaking, so it's up to Ovechkin and the other top guys to get going.

Team Finland Will Win If...

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    It can get the first goal and make Russia panic

    First goal wins, it says here. 

    If Finland scores first, everyone wearing a Russian sweater—including the thousands of fans on handwill start to get a severe case of nerves. No one wants to play Finland from behind in a win-or-go-home game. 

    If Teemu Selanne or Mikael Granlund can pop one in early, the arena will go very quiet.

Prediction

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Well, there is such a thing as the DaterJinx (look it up on Twitter), so Russians beware: I'm picking you to win.

    Russia was my pick to win the gold, and I'll stick with that conviction, however shakily.

    They are in the quarterfinals. Yes, they haven't looked too impressive and had to play that qualifying game against Norway just to get in, but they're here. Guys like Ovechkin, Kovalchuk and Malkin are due.

    They can't be silenced forever. 

    Count on at least one biscuit in the basket from Ovechkin and more strong goaltending from the goalie in the Russian net. Finland's offense—without Barkov and Koivu—has plenty of issues too.

    Predicted score: Russia 3, Finland 2