Olympic Hockey 2014: Biggest Takeaways from the Quarterfinals
The quarterfinals of the 2014 Winter Olympics men's ice hockey tournament is in the books, and the host nation of Russia is no longer part of the tournament.
It bowed out to Finland, and each Russian player has a long trip back to his respective NHL or KHL team, as they all try to figure out just where they went wrong.
For fans of geographical rivalries, there's a lot to like heading into the semifinal of this tourney though. At the top of the bracket, Sweden and Finland will do battle for the right to advance to the gold-medal game. These two Scandinavian nations have a rich rivalry, and the contest will be a treat to watch.
The only thing better than Sweden vs. Finland is a matchup between Canada and the United States, right?
Well we're going to get that too. The biggest takeaway from the quarterfinals is just how spoiled fans and pundits are going to be from this point on in the Winter Games. That's not all we gathered though.
Slovenia Should Be Proud
Heading into the Winter Olympics, Slovenia was ranked 17th in the world by the IIHF. It battled through the preliminary tournament and came up with an upset over Slovakia, earning a trip to the qualifying round.
To the surprise of many, Slovenia won again. Led by Anze Kopitar—the only NHL player on the roster—the Slovenes beat Austria and advanced to the "elite eight" stage of the tournament. For a nation that is home to less than 3 million people and has seen only five players drafted in the NHL in its history, just being in the quarterfinal was a victory.
The Slovenes didn't roll over for Sweden either. Alexander Steen scored for the Swedes in the opening period, but Slovenia kept the game at 1-0 through two periods of play. Sweden put the foot on the gas en route to an eventual 5-0 win, but Slovenia has every reason to be prideful.
It made it as far as Russia did, after all.
Alexander Radulov Was Russia's Best Player
Anyone who watched all five of Russia's games knows who its best player was. Pavel Datsyuk was close, but no one on the squad dominated as frequently and as impressively as Alexander Radulov.
Did he still take several undisciplined penalties against the United States in the preliminary round? Sure, but otherwise no Russian player could hold a candle to Radulov's intensity and compete level.
Which is why the home team is no longer part of the tournament.
On a squad that featured Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Datsyuk, an NHL washout shouldn't be labeled as the most intense competitor out on the ice on a nightly basis. Yet Radulov was. If you're looking for a reason why Russia bowed out early, look no further than the fact that the ex-Nashville Predator was its top threat, night in and night out.
Radulov is an outstanding player, but there's no that reason Russia's big guns couldn't have been much, much bigger and more impressive. At least as impressive as Radulov.
Finland Passing the Torch
Teemu Selanne was outstanding for the Finns in the quarterfinal as they took down Russia. He wasn't the best player on the ice for Finland though. That distinction—at least in the offensive zone—belongs to Mikael Granlund.
The Minnesota Wild youngster elevated his game when Finland needed a replacement superstar.
The Finns came into the game against Russia without four of their top players. Both Mikko and Saku Koivu were unable to play, Valtteri Filppula was forced to miss the tournament and Aleksander Barkov was injured during the preliminary round.
That should have meant a feeding frenzy for the Russians, but it never happened. Instead, Finland's offense was opportunistic and Granlund seemed to be everywhere at once. His play was mildly reminiscent of a younger Selanne, and in this game it became clear that the future of Finnish hockey is in capable hands.
David Backes Is Still Captain America
The United States won its quarterfinal contest against the Czech Republic by a 5-2 final, but the game was still very much up for grabs in the first period.
After James van Riemsdyk gave the Americans the early 1-0, the Czechs stormed back and scored less than two minutes later. That tally put the U.S. back on its heels, and netminder Jonathan Quick was forced to make several key saves under pressure.
With the Americans in need of a momentum-swinging play, David Backes made a sick cross-ice pass to Dustin Brown to deflate the Czechs. He wasn't done yet though, and he scored a goal with less than three seconds remaining in the opening period to make it 3-1.
The Czech Republic was never able to climb out of that hole.
Zach Parise finally got his first goal of the Olympics against the Czechs, but today Backes was once again Captain America.
USA vs Canada
The last time the United States and Canada clashed in the Olympics, this is what happened: Sidney Crosby scored the overtime game-winning goal to cement his status as one of the top Canadian players in the history of the sport.
The Americans have waited four long years for revenge, and they'll get a chance to knock off their neighbors and defending gold-medal champions in the semifinal matchup.
What's not to love about that?
It's games like this that make the Olympics so special, and we're likely in for a treat when these two squads square off once again.
Kristers Gudlevskis Was Remarkable
Talk about leaving it all out on the ice.
Canada was supposedly lucky that the Latvians had beaten the Swiss yesterday. They were viewed as an easier out, and the Canadians appeared to be a lock to advance to the semifinal.
Then Kristers Gudlevskis took the ice and put on one of the most inspiring goaltending performances in recent memory. If you had never seen a netminder cause a stoppage in play because of straight up fatigue, you had after Canada relentlessly shelled Latvia's goalie for three straight periods.
Canada won 2-1, but not before Gudlevskis would make a whopping 55 saves. Latvia had the game tied heading into the final minutes of the third period but came up just short because of a Shea Weber power-play goal.
There's no shame in that whatsoever. What a gutsy performance by Gudlevskis and Latvia on the whole.