The hockey world is abuzz at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi after the incredible gold-medal game on the women’s side between Canada and the United States.
Now it’s the men’s turn, as the tournament is down to four teams. Canada and the United States will face off in one semifinal, while Sweden and Finland will square off in the other.
Considering the NHL star power that will be on the ice when the Americans and Canadians face off, it is only natural to assume the gold-medal winner will emerge from that game. However, there is plenty of combined talent between Sweden and Finland.
After all, Sweden is the No. 1 seed for a reason.
New Jersey Devils beat writer Tom Gulitti cautions those who are overlooking this game:
People seem to be almost forgetting about Sweden-Finland semifinal. Huge rivalry too and winner won't be a walkover in gold medal game.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) February 21, 2014
Here is a schedule and broadcast information for the semifinal matchup.
2014 Winter Olympics Hockey Semifinal: Sweden vs. Finland
Date: Feb. 21
Time: 7 a.m. ET, 4 p.m. Sochi time and noon GMT
TV Broadcast: NBC Sports Network at 7 a.m. ET and 3 p.m. ET (rebroadcast), BBC at noon GMT
Live Stream: NBCOlympics.com
Sweden has to be considered the favorite after an impressive preliminary stage and dominant performance in the quarterfinals.
The Swedes knocked off the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Latvia to the combined tune of 10-5 to finish atop Group C and then destroyed Slovenia 5-0 to reach the semifinals.
Sweden also has demonstrated the best special teams play at the Games by scoring on six of its 17 chances on the power play. If it can take advantage of those opportunities against Finland, it should find a way to reach the gold-medal game.
However, the thing that separates Sweden is its terrific goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
He has dominated in Sochi, stopping 92 of the 97 shots he has faced and leading the way for his squad. There was a bit of a scare in an earlier practice though, as forward Daniel Alfredsson said via USA Today’s Helene St. James:
That's a tough thing because he really wanted to catch Loui [Eriksson] on the breakaway and threw himself down, and Henrik was trying to make the save, and they just pummeled each other. We can laugh at it now because it wasn't too serious, but it gave everybody a big scare.
Lundqvist will have his work cut out for him with the national team from Finland though.
Finland handled Austria 8-4, Norway 6-1 and then lost a heartbreaker to Canada in overtime 2-1 in preliminary play. However, it wasn't until the quarterfinals when Finland made the most noise.
Finland eliminated host country Russia by the score of 3-1, disappointing the home fans and knocking out one of the presumed favorites at the Games in the process. While Russia certainly disappointed at the Sochi Olympics, it had incredible talent, and the win is still a testament to Finland’s ability on the ice.
Finland has seen 12 different players score goals during the tournament and will attack with a balanced offense.
Looking ahead, the winner of this game will be determined by whether Lundqvist can consistently stop that attack.
Sweden will likely find the back of the net on a power play at some point, so if Lundqvist can contain Finland, Sweden will be in the gold-medal game.
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