So, after three one-goal games and a blowout yesterday, we are now ready for the quarterfinals. Headlined by one marquee matchup and three other close games anticipated, let's take a look at what we could expect today.
Canada vs. Russia
This is, of course, the matchup that most were expecting to see in the Gold Medal game, but, instead, we will now see these two powerhouses collide on a Wednesday evening instead of a Sunday afternoon.
After a huge letdown against the U.S., Team Canada came out firing yesterday, beating down the Germans 8-2. The new top line of Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, and Jarome Iginla showed great chemistry, and were instrumental in scoring three of the eight goals for the night. Twenty-year-old Drew Doughty has been an absolute stud in this tournament (and his keeper value in fantasy leagues just keeps going up and up).
Roberto Luongo didn't have too much work, but should now be mentally prepared for a date with the Russians.
Alexander Ovechkin and his crew got a bye after winning their division, but now must take to the ice against a deep Canadian squad, which will also have the backing of the crowd behind it. Evgeni Nabokov will get the start tonight, and the club will be without the services of Sergei Zinoviev, which is a name that isn't familiar to most in North America.
He's a great two-way player for the Russians, and more importantly, his injury forces the other pivots on the squad to log more ice time. That will probably not be a problem for Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk, but at 40 years old, Sergei Fedorov is not the same player he was five or six years ago.
Outcome: This game will feature two goaltenders in Luongo and Nabokov that have a strong reputation as regular season performers that can't get the job done in the playoffs or a big game when it matters. One of them will end that perception today, and chances are it won't be Nabokov. The Canadians are too deep for a thinner Russian lineup to handle, and if the Ovechkin-Malkin-Semin line is contained, then don't expect much from the other three lines.
Ilya Kovalchuk has been practically invisible, and KHLers Alexander Radulov and Alexei Morozov have been non-factors. The biggest difference is going to be on the blueline, where Team Russia does not even compare in terms of depth.
Prediction: Canada wins 5-3
Switzerland vs. USA
These two teams squared off last week in the first game of the tournament, and because of solid goaltending, the Swiss were able to hang around and eventually lose 3-1. The Americans are coming off of a high in beating Canada on Sunday, but GM Brian Burke has not been happy with the play of his team, besides Ryan Miller. With so many young players on this team, a letdown is quite possible.
Switzerland got by in a shootout against Belarus yesterday, and seemingly are the only underdog team left in the tournament. However, the one thing that the Swiss do have on par with the other countries still alive is goaltending. Hiller has the capability to steal a game all on his own, which is what he almost did against the Canadians last week. The challenge will be to get a few lucky breaks and score some goals.
Miller has been pretty solid throughout the tournament, and the same could be said about the veteran leader of the blueline, Brian Rafalski. However, the big guns like Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Paul Stastny, and Phil Kessel need to get going, because there will be no second chances to work on their games if they don't win.
Outcome: This game is a possible upset in the making, especially with so many young players that might have let the Canada game get to their heads. The Swiss might have been overlooking Belarus in anticipation of this game, but after yesterday's close call, they should be more disciplined. I do think the States should pull through, but I can't shake my gut feeling.
Prediction: Swiss upset the Americans 3-2 because of Hiller's superb play
Czech Republic vs. Finland
It seemed like a real possibility that we would have been talking about a Latvia/Finland matchup, because that is how close the Czechs came to blowing it.
However, this will be a different story, because this Finnish team is definitely not Latvia, and Jaromir Jagr's posse has not faced a goaltender with the star quality of Finnish netminder Miikka Kiprusoff. Despite getting shut out in their last game against Sweden, the Finns do possess some talent up front, including veterans Saku Koivu, Olli Jokinen, and Teemu Selanne, and on the back-end with Kimmo Timonen.
The one big disadvantage for Finland is that Joni Pitkanen will miss this game because of his elbow to the head of Sweden's Patric Hornqvist.
Tomas Vokoun had a really shaky game last night, but now gets an opportunity to redeem himself. It's also quite possible that Jagr might not play today, as he hasn't been himself since getting rocked by Ovechkin on Sunday afternoon. Martin Havlat and Milan Michalek have been major disappointments up front. Tomas Plekanec, David Krejci and Patrik Elias can only do so much.
Outcome: The Czechs might not be a match for Finland, with or without Jagr. Unless Havlat and some of these other guys wake up, the Finns should make quick work of them and get ready for the winner of USA/Switzerland.
Prediction: Finland wins 4-2
Slovakia vs. Sweden
This should be another entertaining game, with two skilled clubs squaring off. Next to Canada, the Swedes are considered to have the most depth on their club. So far, the offense has not played the way it is capable of playing, as Nicklas Backstrom and Loui Eriksson seemed to be the only two really clicking. Alfredsson, Forsberg, and the Sedins are some of the other big names that can produce in a hurry.
The blueline will also cause problems for Hossa, Gaborik, and the rest of the Slovak forwards, as Nicklas Lidstrom, Matthias Ohlund, and Niklas Kronwall are a solid trio.
The biggest difference between the two clubs is in goal. Jaroslav Halak has been solid for the Slovaks, but Henrik Lundqvist has been unbeatable this tournament. There is a reason he is known as King Henrik, and he again should be the difference tonight.
Outcome: Both clubs can score, but the Swedes possess a deeper blueline. Zdeno Chara and Lubomir Visnovsky can't be out there for 60 minutes trying to contain all four Swedish lines, especially the scoring units. Lundqvist isn't playing behind the New York Rangers at the moment.
Prediction: Sweden wins 5-2
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