Super (2010 Winter Olympic) Sunday: Men's Ice Hockey
We got some dramatics in men's ice hockey, with Switzerland taking Canada the distance, but faltering in the shootout, while Slovakia did the same to Russia, but the Slovaks were able to take the win from the Russians.
But we are all in for a treat this coming Sunday (02/21/10) as we get a day (almost similar to NCAA's rivalry week) that has three rivalry match-ups. This is the day where we will most likely see each of the group winners and runner ups determined.
While it may not seem that important, it is. The three group winners and the best second placed team get a first round bye. Also, the top seeded team has the potential to face the lowest seeded team (barring any upsets between teams five-twelve).
Russia V Czech Republic 3:00pm EST
The Czechs will be coming off a game against Latvia, and the Russians will still have a bitter taste in their mouth after that shootout loss to Slovakia. Barring any surprises, the Czechs will come into this game with a two point lead on the Russians for the group lead—a two point lead the Russians will look to erase.
The Russians boast the better team on paper, but we all know games aren't played on paper.
Thomas Vokoun will guard the net for the Czechs, and he is quietly making a case for a Vezina trophy this season, playing for his Florida Panthers. Russia has two great goaltenders in Nabokov and Bryzgalov, but both have played just OK in these Olympics (Bryzgalov was in net for the loss to Slovakia).
I'm not sure who will start, but I don't think it will matter—both should be able to get the job done, but both could have a not so stellar game.
This should be a game with a ton of skill—Ovechkin and Jagr, Kovalchuk and Elias, Datsyuk and Havlat. It will definitely be a treat for the eyes.
I think this one will go the distance. It's hard to pick against the Russians but I think Vokoun can outplay his Russian counterpart and the Czechs take it four to three in a shootout.
Canada V USA 7:45pm EST
Simple for both teams, win and you take the group. Canada's two points instead of three against the Swiss will only affect them when every team is seeded after the group stages. If the Canadians fail to win this game they will most likely be facing what seemed impossible—losing out on that first bye.
The Canadian team has more talent and more depth than the Americans, but the Americans do have speed. The Americans bring the youth factor, but the Canadian team has it's fair share with Crosby, Toews, and the twenty-year-old defenseman Drew Doughty.
In the nets it's Brodeur V Miller (Miller has been confirmed as the starter for the tournament, and Canada Head Coach Mike Babcock has confirmed Brodeur will get the start in this game).
Miller was playing out of his mind, posting Vezina numbers, but has recently slipped in form along with his Buffalo Sabres. Brodeur hasn't posted career numbers (something hard to do with the career hes had), but he's been solid for the high-flying Devils, who are sitting second in the Eastern Conference.
Heading into this game, both teams have seen scores that haven't reflected their play. The Americans beat the Swiss three to one, and the Norwegians six to one, but they weren't spectacular against Norway until a three goal third period led them to the win.
The same could be said for Canada. The big thing in Canada's camp right now is execution—in the scoreless first period against Norway, and in the whole game versus Switzerland, Canada had all the chances in the world, but couldn't put the puck in the net.
Though, for the most part, Canada's misfortunes against the Swiss could be attributed to the play of Anaheim Ducks 'tender Jonas Hiller.
So we have two teams who aren't really playing to potential, although Canada's potential is greater than the Americans.
I think this game will be really close. I see the Americans up to the challenge of facing Canada on Canadian soil, but I doubt they can get all three points. I say Miller and Brodeur both have great games, but Crosby and co. will be too much for the Americans to handle, and Canada gets it done three to one.
Sweden V Finland 11:55pm EST
A repeat of the final at the 2006 Torino Olympics will see the winner of this one take the group.
Neither of the teams have slipped up (Sweden is currently leading Belarus, and Finland will take on Germany later today) so the loser of this game has a good chance of being the best second placed team and getting a bye—but by all means both teams will be looking to capture all three points.
The Swedes seemed to struggle a little bit against the Germans, and probably should have scored more than the two goals they scored. Backup goaltender for the Sharks Thomas Greiss had an excellent game, and was a big factor in the scoreline not getting inflated above two.
Finland looked solid against a weak Belarus team, only allowing one goal on twelve shots.
Both of these teams have solid defense and solid goaltenders.
Miikka Kiprusoff of the Flames and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers will be in net for Finland and Sweden, respectively.
Of the two, Kipper is playing better, and night in and night out gives his Flames a chance to win...but the same can be said of Lundqvist. Who knows where the Flames or Rangers would be in the standings without their star goaltenders.
Both these teams play some great defense, but I would not totally expect a complete defensive battle...but I'm not sure the puck will be in the back of the net a whole lot. Like with Russia, it is hard picking against Sweden, but I am picking Kipper to marginally outplay Lundqvist and Finland to squeak by Sweden two to one.
*After a little scare, Sweden defeated Belarus by a score of four to two
As you have seen in my article, I am a firm believer any team can beat any team—as long as their goaltender is hot. In a knock-out tournament your best player should be your 'tender if you want to take it all.
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