With Russia falling in the quarterfinals, the complexion of the 2014 men's Olympic hockey tournament was radically altered. The final four has been decided and the Sochi Games will end with the bronze medalists winning and the silver-medal team losing.
As Russians can tell you, it's all about gold. This is a ranking and analysis of each team's chances to finish on top of the podium based on the current odds.
Ice Hockey Men's Semifinals
When: Friday, Sweden vs. Finland, 7 a.m. ET; United States vs. Canada, noon ET
Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome; Shayba Arena
Bronze-Medal Game: Saturday, 10 a.m. ET
Gold-Medal Game: Sunday, 7 a.m. ET
1. United States
The U.S. team proved its mettle by edging Russia in the shootout thanks to T.J. Oshie's arsenal of dekes. In the other three games, the United States outscored opponents 17-4.
Phil Kessel has been irrepressible. He tallied a hat trick against Slovenia and scored his fifth goal at the Sochi Games in the quarterfinal win over the Czech Republic. Defenseman Ryan Suter tallied three assists in that game alone.
As noted by the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), "The U.S. might be peaking at the right time to improve its chances to win Olympic hockey gold for the first time since the 'Miracle on Ice,' in 1980...The Americans shaped their roster with players who skate fast, hit hard, share the puck and score."
Jonathan Quick has been effective in net and may be channeling the kind of play that won him the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy with the Los Angeles Kings. Canada has struggled to score (see below) and the United States will be golden if the scoring continues.
Odds of winning gold: 2-1
With the Canadian women's team winning gold behind a stirring comeback against the United States, the men should draw some inspiration and competitive drive from that. And they really need the boost.
Canada barely shuffled by Latvia 2-1 to avoid a ignominious defeat of Russian proportions. Canada's offense has been lacking and prodigious scorer Sidney Crosby has just two assists and zero goals in the tournament so far.
According to USA Today's Paul Myerberg, head coach Mike Babcock addressed the stark contrast between Team Canada's current offense and that of the Americans:
The puck just seems to be going in the net for them. I watched some of their action and they seem to be scoring. And we haven't yet. We feel we have quality players who have got quality opportunities, real good looks, and we haven't scored.
The team has enough talent to find its scoring at the right time and reel off a pair of wins to claim gold, but to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it gets late early in knockout-elimination play. The Americans have been clicking on offense and Canada needed overtime to get past Finland in the group stage.
Odds of winning gold: 2-1
A simple win over Finland would guarantee the Swedes at least the silver medal, though that's easier said than done. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist gives them a puncher's chance even against the best in the world, and he's 4-0 so far in Sochi.
Sweden smoked Slovenia like a piece of haddock with a 5-0 shutout in the quarterfinal. Carl Hagelin added a pair of goals as the Swedes piled on in the third period.
Finland will prove to be a very tough test, but Sweden is a very dangerous dark-horse candidate for gold.
Odds of winning gold: 13-5
Home-ice advantage can be a powerful thing, as the 2010 Canadian team from the Vancouver Olympics can tell you. Finland doesn't care about that.
The Finns were merciless in dispatching Russia from the quarterfinal, breaking the hearts of millions in the host nation and seemingly also the bear mascot as well. Teemu Selanne is 43 years old, yet he netted the eventual game-winner late in the first period to put Finland ahead.
Tuukka Rask allowed an early goal to Ilya Kovalchuk, but shut the Russians down after that and finished with 37 saves in the 3-1 win. The stingy Finns have yielded only three goals in regulation over the last three games.
Hot goalies can deliver Olympic gold, and Rask has been percolating in net.
Odds of winning gold: 19-4
Betting information courtesy of OddsChecker.com's 888Sport listings.
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