The women's 2014 Winter Olympic hockey teams from Switzerland and Sweden will have to get over the letdown of losing their semifinals matchups and prepare to battle back in Thursday's bronze-medal game.
Switzerland fell just one game short of challenging for the gold medal in a 3-1 loss to Canada, while the Swedes were overwhelmed 6-1 by the USA. Those defeats have to be demoralizing to an extent, but a shot at the podium still looms for these two formidable clubs in Sochi, Russia.
The Americans outshot Sweden a whopping 70-9 in the semifinals, which will have to change if the Swedes are meant to challenge Switzerland for the bronze. Unlike other hockey tournaments, this game offers far more significance, since an Olympic medal is the consolation prize.
Let's take a look at this game that won't garner as much attention as the gold-medal clash between the tournament's two favorites but is still vital to the countries involved at Bolshoy Ice Dome.
When: Thursday, Feb. 20
Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia
TV: NBC Sports Network from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. EST (h/t NBCOlympics.com)
Live Stream: NBCSports.com Live Extra
Preview and Prediction
There are several factors at play here that suggest Switzerland should win this game, even though it will be close. Sweden was coming off an ecstatic victory over Finland ahead of the clash with the USA, which prompted some fiery commentary from Emma Eliasson, who scored the game-winning goal against the Finns.
"We are like the worst enemies ever," said Eliasson, per the Associated Press (via FoxSports.com).
That gives an idea of the thrill Sweden was experiencing just to get through to the semifinals, before it fell far short of the high-powered Americans. Perhaps that was to be expected, but the aforementioned disparity in shots is a big concern ahead of this matchup with Switzerland.
Eliasson and Anna Borgqvist headline as strong scoring threats for Sweden, but they may not be up to the task given Switzerland's recent form.
Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times was surprised—along with other observers—to see the Swiss knock off Russia 2-0 on its home ice in the quarterfinals, considering Switzerland lost all three of its preliminary-round games:
But losing all three of the prior contests will happen when the likes of both the USA and Canada are in the pool. Switzerland competed well in the 3-1 semifinal loss to the Canadians and lost the other contest in overtime to Finland, so it's not as though the team's form was all that poor ahead of the encounter with the Russians.
The early setbacks were something the Swiss were bracing for, but they knew they had to saddle up for the Russia game, which they did in tremendous fashion.
"We prepared for that game for quite a while," said Switzerland goaltender Florence Schelling after defeating Russia, per the prior AP report. "We knew maybe we were going to lose all our games. Today was the game, the most important game for us."
Schelling stopped all 41 shots she faced in the quarterfinals, and she turned away 45 of 48 shots versus the mighty Canada team. She even shut out the Canadians over the final two periods, denying all 32 shots on goal. That stout play between the pipes should work to her country's advantage in a big way in this upcoming bronze-medal battle.
Swedish goalie Valentina Lizana-Wallner has faced just about the maximum offensive onslaught possible, though, having been blitzed by the U.S. in the semifinals. She should be prepared for anything the Swiss' formidable front line throws at her, which will help keep the outcome tight.
However, look for Switzerland's superior competition in group play, better effort in the semifinals and advantage at goaltender to drive them to the podium in what will be an entertaining showdown in Sochi.
Prediction: Switzerland 2, Sweden 1