USA vs. Finland Bronze-Medal Game: Key Storylines Entering Matchup in Sochi

Alex EspinozaCorrespondent IIIFebruary 22, 2014

Team USA watches late in the third period against Canada during a men's semifinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Canada won 1-0. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Petr David Josek/Associated Press

Canadians are causing a lot of heartbreak for Americans these days.

Within a span of less than 24 hours, the U.S. women's and men's teams both suffered losses to Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi with big consequences. While the women suffered an epic collapse to lose 3-2 on Thursday in the gold-medal game, the men were outlasted in a hard-fought 1-0 defeat on Friday.

But Team USA will have to rebound quickly for Saturday's bronze-medal game against Finland, which lost 2-1 to Sweden in the other semifinal. The Americans are atop the total medal leaderboard with 27 following Friday's action, and the men's hockey team will be trying to add more hardware to the trophy cabinet.

Here's a look at viewing info for the matchup and three of the top storylines to keep an eye on.

Date: Feb. 22

Time: 10 a.m. ET

TV: NBC Sports Network

Live Stream: NBC Live Extra

Replay: 6 p.m. ET, NBC SN


Finland: Who Will Start At Goalie?

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21: Kari Lehtonen #32 of Finland gives up a goal to Loui Eriksson #21 of Sweden in the second period during the Men's Ice Hockey Semifinal Playoff on Day 14 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 21, 201
Pool/Getty Images

Finland's starting goalie Tuukka Rask entered as one of the big names in this tournament, but he didn't fare as expected in his first three games, allowing seven goals on 85 shots for a 91.76 save percentage.

On Friday, he was unable to play due to illness, so Kari Lehtonen took his place in the semifinal against Sweden. He held up his end of the bargain for most of the contest, saving 23 of 25 shots, but he was also responsible for allowing a long-range goal from defenseman Erik Karlsson—one that Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News said Lehtonen should have saved:

It’s unfair, but that’s how goalies have been judged for years. If you make “that” stop, you’re a hero. If you allow “that” goal, you’re not. It’s something Ed Belfour and Marty Turco experienced in their careers, and it’s something that Kari Lehtonen is starting to learn.

Lehtonen allowed “that” goal Friday in a 2-1 loss to Sweden in the Olympic semifinals. He was great in stopping 23 of 25 shots, including some really impressive saves. He was tested with more serious chances than Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist. His team was injury-riddled, including in goal. Lehtonen, who is serving as the back-up for Finland, found out about an hour before the game that expected starter Tuukka Rask had flu and would not be able to play.

No matter who's under center for Finland, be sure to keep an eye on American Max Pacioretty.

The semifinal loss wasn't all Lehtonen's fault, though, as the Finland offense was outmuscled by Sweden and couldn't get much going in the middle of the ice.

Even if Rask is physically able to play on Saturday, his recent struggles and Lehtonen's performance on Friday might keep Rask on the bench.


USA: Offense Looking to Rebound

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Jay Bouwmeester #19 of Canada and Patrick Kane #88 of the United States compete for the puck along the boards during the Men's Ice Hockey Semifinal Playoff on Day 14 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on Fe
Al Bello/Getty Images

The Americans posted staggering numbers in their first four games of this tournament but ran into a brick wall in Canadian goalie Carey Price.

Team USA created opportunities and was able to pepper Price with shots at times, but he simply was on top of his game. After the tough one-goal loss, Patrick Kane expressed his disappointment to Greg Beacham of The Associated Press: "We didn't really create much offense. It's a little disappointing. ... I think everyone expected a tight-checking game, but to say we would have gotten shut out, I don't think anyone would have thought that."

A shutout was the farthest thing from Kane and his teammates' minds after they scored 20 goals during the group stage and quarterfinals.

Perhaps Canadian coach Mike Babcock gave Finland a blueprint on how to beat the Americans, per defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic's comment to Mark Purdy of the Bay Area News Group:

It's hard to see this potent United States attack being stifled two games in a row, so the Finns better be ready for a quick-paced contest.


Finding Energy After Tough Losses

This will be a tough turnaround for both teams as they will have to return to the ice after their respective dreams of gold were dashed.

While the United States and Canada battled for first place in Vancouver four years ago, Finland knocked off Slovakia 5-3 in the bronze-medal game. No one wants to be playing in a consolation game, but the Finns sounded like they are staying upbeat.

"A bronze medal would be an unbelievable thing," 43-year-old forward Teemu Selanne told Larry Lage of The Associated Press. "So, that is our goal now even though it is very disappointing right now."

But this is still the Olympics, and for many of these players, it will be their last chance to represent their country on such a big stage. Earning a place on the podium should be motivation for both sides.