Two teams will take one step closer to a gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in men's ice hockey on Friday. Sweden and Finland face off, while the next chapter in the budding rivalry between the United States and Canada will be written in the second game.
The winners will move on to the gold medal game on Sunday, while the losers will have to settle for the bronze medal game on Saturday.
Both games should be extremely close, as the difference between all four teams is pretty negligible.
Here's a quick preview for Friday's ice hockey action.
Finland vs. Sweden Preview
When: Friday, Feb. 21, at 7 a.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Olympics Live Extra
When Sweden captain Henrik Zetterberg was ruled out for the rest of the Olympics, it seemed his country's chances of winning gold may have gone up in smoke; however, the Swedes recovered well, going undefeated in the preliminary round and beating Slovenia 5-0 in the quarterfinals.
Finland's 3-1 win came as a big surprise, but the Finns started out well in Sochi, and their only loss was in overtime to Canada.
On paper, Sweden get the edge in this game. They still have a talented attack even without Zetterberg, Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen, between Nicklas Backstrom, Daniel Sedin and Daniel Alfredsson. It's certainly much more than Finland have to offer.
If Finland go down early, it will be hard for them to come back. Henrik Lundqvist is a talented goaltender, and the Finns are reliant on their defense to keep them in games. If that advantage is lost, it's game over.
Bleacher Report's Dave Lozo wrote how putting too much pressure on goaltender Tuukka Rask may be the team's downfall:
Finland is an opportunistic team that relies on goaltending, but they will need to avoid major breakdowns defensively. Tuukka Rask is one of the best goaltenders in the world, but they can't continually rely on him to be otherworldly like he was against Russia.
Sweden will nab an early goal and coast from there.
Final Prediction: Sweden 2, Finland 0
Canada vs. United States Preview
When: Friday, Feb. 21, at noon ET
Live Stream: NBC Olympics Live Extra
It's amazing how far the United States have come since that disaster at Nagano. Going into the 2002 Olympics, the U.S.'s last medal in men's ice hockey was the "Miracle on Ice." Then it was silver in Salt Lake City, Utah, and silver in 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.
The specter of Canada continues to loom large, though. Until the United States can knock off the Canadians in a game like this, they'll always be playing second banana.
This isn't lost on head coach Dan Bylsma, per ESPN.com's Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun:
It's the biggest [rivalry] in hockey. For a long time, the Canadians have been expected to win tournaments. I think the Americans have challenged that in recent years. You can go back to 2002 or 2010 or world junior tournaments. This will be the next version.
A lot of this game will depend on Canada's Carey Price. As Burnside and LeBrun wrote, he doesn't have a great postseason record with the Montreal Canadiens, and he hasn't faced much adversity in Sochi:
Price has a checkered playoff history in the NHL and will have to come up big against the most dangerous, balanced offensive unit in the Olympic tournament. The issue for Price is that he hasn't exactly been worked to the bone here. In three games, Price has faced just 51 shots, an average of 17 per game, but he's been calm and confident when tested.
Between the revenge factor and the performance of the American forwards, I'm going with the upset here. Phil Kessel is on a particularly great run, and with Jonathan Quick between the pipes, the U.S. will keep Canada in check.
Final Prediction: USA 2, Canada 1
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