Two games. Two border rivalries. Four countries all gunning for gold.
And perhaps fittingly, the 2006 gold-medal winners, Sweden, are now set to face the 2010 gold-medal winners, Canada, as each nation will gun to become the first team to win two gold medals since the NHL began allowing its players to participate in the Olympics in 1998.
Both Finland and the United States gave Sweden and Canada all they could handle in the men's hockey semifinals on Friday, respectively. But it wasn't to be for either nation, setting up a battle of recent gold-medal winners in the final.
Let's look at the remaining schedule and recap Friday's semifinal games.
|Saturday, February 22 at 10 a.m.||Bronze Medal Game||Finland vs.||NBCSN; NBC Sports Live Extra|
|Sunday, February 23 at 7 a.m.||Gold Medal Game||Sweden vs.||NBC; NBC Sports Live Extra|
Sweden beats Finland, 2-1
In the first battle of the border nations, Sweden edged out Finland, 2-1, behind goals from Loui Eriksson and Erik Karlsson, and Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 25 of 26 shots, had another stout performance.
From NHL on Twitter:
Finland already came into this match dealing with its fair share of injuries (Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula, Saku Koivu and Aleksander Barkov were unable to participate for the Finns), but it received another blow before the game when it was announced that its starting goalie, Tuukka Rask, would miss the game due to illness.
While Kari Lehtonen generally played well, stopping 23 of 25 shots, Karlsson's goal—a slap shot from center ice just below the blue line—was a stop the Finnish keeper should have made.
But Sweden was excellent and did their homework, studying how the Finns beat the Russians and building their game plan accordingly, as Daniel Alfredsson told Chris Stevenson of the Toronto Sun:
We played close attention to the Russian-Finland game. I thought Finland played outstanding and got Russia to where they wanted. We have one big goal today and that was not to get caught in the neutral zone flat-footed and turning pucks over.
I think we were able to do that by coming together with speed and getting the puck in deep. We got a lot of good forechecking going early and put them on their heels. It gave us confidence that we had throughout the game.
The Swedes played more physical than they have in past games and did well to bottle up the Finns throughout. Now, they will be looking to earn their second gold medal in the past eight years.
Canada beats the United States, 1-0
A day after the Canadian women stole a gold medal from the United States, the Canadian men knocked the American men out of contention for a gold medal, beating them 1-0. Jamie Benn scored the game's lone goal, while Carey Price stopped all 31 shots he faced for Canada, who moved to 4-0 in the tournament.
Price spoiled a brilliant effort from Jonathan Quick, who stopped 37 of 38 shots and never had a chance to save Benn's deflected goal. Of course, he deflected the credit after the game, via the official Twitter account of the Canadian Olympic Team:
The stakes couldn't have been higher for this game. There wasn't just a gold medal or bragging rights between rival nations on the line, as NBC Sports tweeted:
In all seriousness, it's been a rough two days for American hockey, as they were beaten by their rivals in the women's and men's competitions. You can bet United States' hockey players will develop a slight tick any time "O Canada" is played for the next four years.
The United States and Finland will lock horns in an intriguing bronze-medal showdown. The Americans will likely be the slight favorites, as they bring the tournament's top offense into the contest, though Finland obviously thrives on playing the role of the underdog.
In the gold-medal contest, the Canadians bring the top defense (they've allowed just three goals over the duration of the tournament) and the top player (Sidney Crosby), while the Swedes have consistently gotten better throughout this tournament and have a goalie in Lundqvist who's more than capable of stealing a win.
Hold onto your seats, folks—the medal round is going to be wild.