Olympic Men's Hockey: Four Games Later, Four Teams Remain

Andrew O'BrienContributor IFebruary 25, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 24:  Zach Parise #9 of the United States celebrates with his team after scoring a goal in the third period during the ice hockey men's quarter final game between USA and Switzerland on day 13 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 24, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

This article originally appeared on PhillyFanComplex.com .

A rundown of Wednesday's Olympic men's hockey action:

USA 2, Switzerland 0

This game was Hannah-Storm-sausage-casing tight, thanks to an otherworldly performance from Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller. Much like he did against Canada in the round-robin portion, Hiller single-handedly kept Switzerland from getting blown out of the water. He even had the game clock under his control, as the only puck to beat him through two periods failed to cross the goal line before the second period ended.

For a game with two combined goals (one of them an empty netter), it was far from short on excitement. The Americans had plenty of chances to score on Hiller, but the Swiss goaltender found a way to stop all but one.

On the 36th shot of the game, with the Americans on the power play, Zach Parise tapped in a rebound 2:08 into the third period for what proved to be the game-winning goal. Parise scored both goals for the U.S., ensuring the victory with an empty-net goal with 11 seconds remaining.

Coming off a game for the ages in the upset win over Canada, USA goalie Ryan Miller stopped all 19 Switzerland shots, some of which provided brief moments of theater.

A strange sequence in the middle of the third saw a Swiss shot hit the inside of the post and manage to somehow stay out of the net. The following rush up ice for the Americans resulted in what appeared to be a goal on a point shot, but Ryan Kesler was called for high sticking in front of the Swiss net, and the goal was disallowed.

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The Americans advance to play Finland on Friday.

Canada 7, Russia 3

So much for all that hype, eh? The hosers from the Great North beat down the Land of Vodka in resounding fashion.

The game was 3-0 before Russia knew what hit it, and 7-2 midway through. The Canadians carried over their performance from Tuesday’s 8-2 win over Germany into this one, making the Russians appear to be no better than the Germans—a testament to the new-found dominance of Team Canada. Six different players scored in this game, and coach Mike Babcock finally seems to have put together proper lines to get the most out of overwhelming talent.

Those tasked with putting together the Russian team, however, made a fatal mistake in opting to showcase the talent of the Kontinental Hockey League to the world rather than aim for the best roster possible. Instead of taking NHL players such as Alexei Kovalev, who has plenty of international experience, the Russians filled out the bottom half of the roster with KHL talent. The result was a top-heavy team with little presence on defense—and when Alexander Ovechkin & Co. weren’t scoring, the Russians weren’t winning.

In-game, Russian coach Slava Bykov erred majorly in sticking with Evgeni Nabokov for so long. Nabokov played admirably, considering the circumstances of the first three goals, but the fourth Canadian goal at the end of the first was a back-breaker. Bykov chose to stick with the San Jose Sharks goalie into the second until he allowed two more soft goals and was ultimately pulled in favor of Ilya Bryzgalov.

Those of us who wondered how anyone could stop the Russians failed to think of any way in which Ovechkin would not carry his team to at least silver. Somehow it happened, but the failure of the Russians had more to do with shoddy craftsmanship than anything AO did or did not do.

Canada, meanwhile, took advantage of seemingly every opportunity Russia provided them. Their goals were the result of odd-man rushes and uncontested drives to the net, and they capitalized frequently enough to bury Russia early. Corey Perry had two goals, while Ryan Getzlaf, Dan Boyle, Rick Nash, and Brenden Morrow each had one.

Roberto Luongo was boosted by the early lead, but made several tough saves despite allowing three goals. Cease goaltending discussion: Luongo is the guy going forward.

Canada will play Slovakia on Friday.

Finland 2, Czech Republic 0

Much like the USA game, Finland’s shutout win over the Czech Republic was short on goals but high on drama. The game remained scoreless until more than halfway through the third period, when Nicklas Hagman tipped a point shot past Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun for the eventual game-winner. Valtteri Filppula added an empty-net goal.

Finnish goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff pitched a 31-save shutout, at times making one acrobatic save after improbable save. His opponent Vokoun was equally impressive, but the Finns managed enough offense to advance to the semifinals.

The Czechs were a victim of a technical misfortune in this game. Right before Hagman scored to put Finland ahead, Czech defenseman Pavel Kubina lost his helmet behind Vokoun’s net. International rules state a player must either retrieve his helmet or go to the bench in such a situation, and after initially pausing, Kubina skated behind the net to pick up his helmet.

This allowed Hagman to stand in front of the Czech net unmolested. As Kubina put his helmet back on, the puck dropped through Vokoun’s legs and into the net.

Finland will play the U.S. on Friday.

Slovakia 4, Sweden 3

Though Canada over Russia was technically an upset, Slovakia’s victory over defending-gold-medalist Sweden was much more surprising. The Slovaks rode a strong goaltending performance from Jaroslav Halak, who made 22 saves, and got goals from Marian Gaborik, Andrej Sekera, Tomas Kopecky, and Pavol Demitra to upset Sweden.

Besides Halak, Demitra has been the heart and soul of a Slovakian team advancing to the medal round for the first time in its short history. Demitra scored the game-winning goal in a shootout to upset Russia in round-robin play, and added the eventual game-winner in this contest.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was far from good for Sweden, allowing four goals on just 14 shots. Coming off a shutout against Finland, this was a disappointing turn for a Swedish squad many thought had a good chance to repeat as champions.

The truth of the matter, however, is the squad that won gold in 2006 far outpaces this year’s. Gone from the current edition is Mats Sundin, who retired from the NHL last season, and Nicklas Lidstrom, Daniel Alfredsson, and Peter Forsberg are all four years older than they were in Turin. The new crop of top Swedish players, including the Sedin twins, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and Nicklas Backstrom, are all fine players, but cannot as of yet come close to matching the talent level of the aforementioned 2006 leaders.

Forsberg was a force in this game, however, showing flashes of his old self with one assist. He was particularly good for a stretch in the second period, with a few consecutive shifts spent buzzing in the Slovakian zone, one of which ended with a nifty backhand centering pass from behind the net to Patric Hornqvist, who put it past Halak.

Slovakia will aim to continue their underdog run against a newly confident Team Canada Friday.


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