Olympic Hockey 2014: Predictions for Both Semifinal Tilts

Ryan DavenportContributor IFebruary 21, 2014

Feb 19, 2014; Sochi, RUSSIA; Canada goalie Carey Price (31) makes a save against Latvia in the men's ice hockey quarterfinals during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Bolshoy Ice Dome. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

Wednesday brought us an extremely exciting day of Olympic hockey, as we saw the host Russians fall in heartbreaking fashion, the Latvians give the vaunted Canadians all they could handle, Sweden steamroll the Slovenians and the U.S. demolish the Czech Republic.

As a result, we are left with a pair of very compelling semifinal tilts that feature two classic international rivalries, so Day 15 in Sochi will present us with arguably the most entertaining afternoon of hockey in recent memory.

Despite the absence of Russia and the Czech Republic, this quartet of medal contenders is loaded with NHL stars, and both clashes promise to be played with the same intensity as a decisive game during the Stanley Cup Final.

Heading into what should be the two most hard-fought contests of this tournament, here's a look at how each game will end.


Finland vs. Sweden

Without Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula in the fold, the Finns initially seemed like they'd be unable to keep up with the world's best, but as usual, Finland's stingy, disciplined style of hockey has enabled them to keep pace with more dynamic opponents.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 19:  Teemu Selanne #8 of Finland skates during the Men's Ice Hockey Quarterfinal Playoff against Russia on Day 12 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennet
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Yes, Teemu Selanne, Mikael Granlund and Tuomo Ruutu have all exceeded expectations, but against a defensively sound team with arguably the best goaltender in the world, that might not be enough.

At the other end of the rink, the Swedes are missing two huge pieces of their own in former Hart Memorial Trophy winner Henrik Sedin, as well as 2008 Conn Smythe Trophy recipient Henrik Zetterberg. But with the depth this team has, there's more than enough skill to get past the depleted Finns.

Though the Canada-USA rivalry has gained steam ever since the Americans knocked off their northern neighbors at the 1996 World Cup, the Sweden-Finland games are just as spirited, so expect a 60-minute battle.

In 2006, these two nations played for the gold in Turin, and Nicklas Lidstrom scored the golden goal off assists from Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg, and all three are retired. Furthermore, of the seven Swedes who tallied points in that game, just Niklas Kronwall remains active, while all five of the Finns who notched points still play professionally.

Obviously, the Finns don't have the high-end talent that Sweden does, as the Tre Kronor boast all-world talents in Daniel Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom, Gabriel Landeskog and Erik Karlsson, and that will be a deciding factor in this game.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 12:  Erik Karlsson #65 of Sweden celebrates with his teammate after scoring a goal in the second period against Alexander Salak #53 of Czech Republic during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group C game on day five of the So
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The biggest story of this game may end up being the duel between two of the game's best stoppers, as Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask are both virtually impossible to beat at times.

Prediction: Sweden 3, Finland 2
Finland may be the toughest international team to play against, but even if Rask stands on his head, it's nearly impossible to imagine Lundqvist giving up more than a pair against an offense that lacks any elite NHL snipers.


Canada vs. USA

On paper, the Canadian team has without a doubt the most stacked lineup of the four remaining teams (or of the original 12 for that matter), but in short tournaments such as this, the most talented team doesn't always win.

Yes, Canada is a perfect 4-0 thus far, and one cannot discount the fact that Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Marleau and Rick Nash (zero goals combined) are all due for breakout performances, but they can't be viewed as outright favorites against the United States.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 19:  Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada and teammates look up as referees debate a goal during the Men's Ice Hockey Quarterfinal Playoff on Day 12 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russi
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

So far, Canada's relied on getting offense from the back end or the team's bottom-six forwards, and while that's been enough to lift the defending Olympic champs over inferior opponents, the U.S. are currently firing on all cylinders.

In net, Canada's anchored by Carey Price, who is among the world's best when he's on his game but isn't exactly the most consistent stopper, so if Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and James van Riemsdyk can get one past him early, it could be a long night for the All-Star goaltender.

As the Toronto Star's Damien Cox pointed out, the Canadian women were able to complete a miraculous comeback against the U.S. yesterday in part due to great goaltending, and Price will likely need to continue that trend in order to do the same.

That being said, Canada's offense is so deep that Mike Babcock's third line of Jamie Benn, Ryan Getzlaf and Perry is arguably better than any trio the U.S. has, and that's also indicative of how well Dan Bylsma's done with his talent pool.

Ultimately, it's really tough to pick between these two squads, and despite the lack of scoring lately, Canada's got the upper hand in every area except in net, but maybe having Jonathan Quick in between the pipes will be the difference.

As a Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner, Quick's demonstrated his mettle in clutch situations, but it's worth keeping in mind that even an otherworldly performance from Ryan Miller in 2010 couldn't lift the U.S. to victory over the Canadians.

SOCHI, - - FEBRUARY 19:  Jonathan Quick #32 of the United States looks on during the Men's Ice Hockey Quarterfinal Playoff on Day 12 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Shayba Arena on February 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)
Pool/Getty Images

But Quick is a proven winner, and that's why he's been entrusted with the task of leading the United States to gold for the first time since 1980.

While that's all certainly plausible, I don't see Canada losing this one, because while they sure haven't scored enough, Babcock's boys don't give up many scoring chances either.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 16:  Drew Doughty #8 of Canada celebrates with his teammate John Tavares #20 after scoring the game winning goal in overtime against Tuukka Rask #40 of Finland during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group B game on day nine
Lars Baron/Getty Images

Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and Duncan Keith have been outstanding, which is why Austria's 23 shots are the most anyone's managed against them thus far.

The U.S. will get shots, but it'll likely take bigger contributions from either Patrick Kane or Zach Parise in order for the Americans to take the latest installment of this North American rivalry.

Prediction: Canada 4, USA 2
It's very difficult to take the offensively struggling Canadians over what has been a sublimely cohesive U.S. squad, but in the end, Canada's stuck to a game plan, and if they continue to do so, talent should win out. Quick could easily steal this game, but Price is an elite goalie in his own right, and if he matches his counterpart save for save, Babcock will be leading his country to a second consecutive appearance in the championship game.