This article originally appeared on www.fantasyhockeywire.com.
So, now we are down to four teams, after half of the field was eliminated yesterday. Among those now going home empty-handed: the Russians, Czechs and Swedes.
Now, before I get into the predictions for the semi-finals, let me say this. I am no psychic, so if I get all of the predictions right, I'm not a genius and if I get all of them wrong, that doesn't mean I have a clue. My goal is try and base them on performances of certain individuals in this tournament, but also go by history when it comes to some of the players involved and how they have coped with pressure in the past. Of course, sometimes it is just a feeling that you may have that something unusual is going to happen.
After going 4 for 4 in the playoff qualification round, I was only 2 for 4 yesterday. I thought perhaps the Swiss might pull an upset on the States, which didn't happen, but the game was definitely close enough that it was a possibility. I also didn't believe Slovakia would defeat Sweden, although a convincing win over Norway would have made me feel otherwise.
I don't think anybody thought that Canada would have put up 7 goals on the Russians. I did believe they would win convincingly, but not by that much. Also, nobody could have thought that Latvia would've pushed the Czechs into overtime, or that Henrik Zetterberg and Peter Forsberg wouldn't have picked up their first points of the tournament until last night, but hey, that's what makes this tournament so fun. With that being said, let's get to the predictions for the semi-final matchups:
USA vs. Finland
This game will pit the top two goaltenders in the NHL this season against one another. Ryan Miller has been a rock for the Sabres all season, while Miikka Kiprusoff has done the same for the Flames. Buffalo and Calgary fans could be mad at their team's performances for various reasons, but goaltending cannot be one of them. Both are also coming off of quarterfinal shutouts.
Something has to give, and in this case, I think it will be Finland that does.
The Americans have not scored a lot in this tournament, despite having such young talents as Zach Parise, Paul Stastny, Bobby Ryan and Patrick Kane up front. However, because these players are all so skilled, any one of them, not to mention others like Phil Kessel, can go off at any moment. Miller will once again be solid in net, so look for another low-scoring contest.
As for the Finns, they lack a true gamebreaker in their lineup. Mikko Koivu is probably the most talented player up front with tremendous upside, but he can't do it alone. He needs help from some of the veterans, like Saku Koivu, Olli Jokinen and Teemu Selanne. All three of them have had their moments in the NHL and international play, but the key word is "had".
The blueline is solid with Kimmo Timonen leading the way, and Joni Pitkanen should be back from his one-game suspension as well. However, the big difference between these two squads will be the grit factor. The Finns can be feisty, with players such as the Ruutus getting under your skin. However, the Americans have some great players that can score and play physical. David Backes, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, and Brooks Orpik to name a few can deliver crushing bodychecks.
Outcome: Up to this point, Finland has not played anybody with this type of grit, as the Swedes and Czechs aren't exactly known for their rough play. The goaltending will be solid at both ends, but eventually, the Americans should break through and cause a few turnovers, which should be good enough to get by Kipper, and then shut the door with their defensive play.
Prediction: Team USA defeats Team Finland 2-1
Canada vs. Slovakia
It has been quite a ride for the host country, hasn't it? On Sunday night, there was a goaltending controversy, callers across Canada were upset with the player selections by Steve Yzerman, and the team wasn't even close to getting a medal in some people's eyes.
How things can change after a couple of blowout wins. The Canadians took out Team Germany and Team Russia in convincing fashion on back-to-back nights, outscoring the two teams 15-5. On both nights, it was different players coming through for the deep squad, and now it doesn't face the defending gold medallists from Sweden, but an upstart Slovakian squad instead. A lot of Canadians all over the country are probably licking their chops for a potential rematch with the Americans on Sunday.
However, there is one thing that Team Canada can't do, and that is get complacent. Slovakia doesn't have the depth that some of these other teams do, but that doesn't mean that they can't beat Canada. There are two gamebreakers on this team, as Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa can each fly and create chances on their own. The depth on the second and third lines is solid, as former NHLers Josef Stumpel, Ziggy Palffy and Richard Zednik have been playing well. Current NHLers Pavol Demitra and Michal Handzus have also contributed.
On the blueline, Lubomir Visnovsky has been great at carrying the puck and running the powerplay, while the NHL's reigning Norris Trophy winner and captain of Slovakia has been quite a difference-maker. Zdeno Chara has been punishing the opposition, and that won't change if Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews go into the corners to fetch the puck.
Jaroslav Halak has also been solid throughout the tournament, and is the only goalie that limited a dynamic offensive squad in Russia to one goal. Even in a blowout, Roberto Luongo did allow 3 goals to Alexander Ovechkin and company.
Outcome: If Canada keeps playing the way it has the last two games and doesn't have a letdown because it's not Sweden anymore, they should still be able to get by the Slovaks and move on to the Gold Medal game. However, the Canadians will need to come out firing like they did against Russia in the first period. Slovakia must survive that early barrage, and play a simple game and sit back in their 1-4 scheme, and try to capitalize on any chances that they can get.
Prediction: Canada over Slovakia 5-2, with an empty-netter
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