If this is to be the last Olympics with the NHL involved, I suppose there’s decent symmetry in having the last two Gold Medal games be the semifinal match ups. It should make for a pretty good morning for hockey fans, assuming you can get up early enough or get off work or watch at work and get fired or whatever you’re going to have to do to watch. But hey, isn’t this what we all came for? Let’s give it the proper treatment.
Sweden v. Finland
TIME: 6am Central (NBCSN)
The Scandinavian rivals kick off the day, with Finland looking to turn around the result from Torino and I suppose the Swedes still a bit sore from coughing up the World Juniors at home to Finland thanks to Teuvo and Rasmus. This is has always kind of been a one-sided rivalry, with Finland playing the little brother to the more exalted Swedes.
You kind of feel like this whole game bends with Tuukka Rask. If he’s on his top form, then Finland has every chance of beating the Three Crowns and might even be the favorite. Henrik Lundqvist has been pretty good, but he hasn’t yet looked like he can steal a game from a quality opponent, just making all the saves he needs to. Rask meanwhile was pretty brilliant against both Canada and Russia, and once the Ruskies went down two you never felt like they were going to get past Rask three times.
But where will the offense come from for Finland? There’s no Nikita Nikitin or Anton Belov to scorch this time around. Mikael Granlund was an absolute stud against the Russians, and he’s going to have to do a lot to provide a platform for Teemu Selanne to roll back the years. But against Karlsson, Edler, Ekman-Larsson, Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Kronwall, and Ericsson that’s a much more daunting task. Olli Jokinen has been all right behind him, but he’s not exactly carrying a rep as a big game player. The Finns look a little lightweight offensively for this.
The Swedes haven’t looked as good in the rest of this tournament as they did in the first 30 minutes of it when they simply toyed with the Czechs. But they do have weapons who can do it on their own. Karlsson has been everywhere, Backstrom, Eriksson, Landeskog and Steen (with current shooting percentages) can all conjure something from nothing. Alfredsson and Hagelin are threats as well, the latter especially with his speed. Patrik Berglund has also been pretty effective this tournament, which is pretty annoying when you’re looking ahead to the spring. There just seems to be too much clad in yellow for the Finns to handle.
What you do know is that it’s going to be cagey as all get out. The Finns are not going to leave themselves open for much. A perfect example was their expert smothering of Russia when they got the lead. What you saw them do against Canada is what you’ll get here. A packed neutral zone, standing up at the blue line, and picking their spots offensively. But Russia didn’t come equipped with a Karlsson, who is a one man trap-buster. Feel like that’s the difference in this one. He’ll open up something or draw a penalty to give the currently lethal Swedish PP just enough to squeeze one or two by Rask. And the Finns don’t want to be chasing, it’s not their strength.
Canada v. USA
TIME: 11am Central (NBCSN)
They say it’s the one we’ve all been waiting for. I’m not convinced. Yeah, you wanna be the best you gotta beat the best and all that. But this has a whole Nadal-Federer feel to it. No matter how rubbish Nadal looks in a tournament, put Fed on the other side and suddenly everything is hitting lines and you can’t get the ball past him. While Canada hasn’t been a force or anything resembling one, I can’t escape the feeling that the sight of the Red, White, and Blue on the other side will make everything snap into gear.
A lot has been made of Canada’s inability to score. But they’ve faced four teams whose sole purpose in life was to make it as hard as possible for them to score. Even Finland, a big boy, basically trapped and waited. We know the US won’t do that. Even if Bylsma wanted to he wouldn’t know how. They’re going to go at the Hosers, and with the extra space the Canadians will find behind that, it’s likely a few of their forwards are going to find the net.
I don’t know what to make of the US. They’ve shredded Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Czechs but really shouldn’t have made work quite so hard against a Russian defense that was screaming to be spanked and called names. They didn’t even manage an even-strength goal in that one. Now they’re facing the best defense in the tournament, and Babcock isn’t even going to let Hamhuis out the cage long enough for him to fuck up. The fear with the US coming into this is how they would score against a really good blue line, and we’re about to find out.
Getting Kane-Kesler-Parise going would be a start. Parise managed a power play marker last out, but the Yanks are going to need him at even-strength. JVR-Pavelski-Kessel is playing too well to not be heard from, and you know Backes is going to send someone into orbit. It might come down to if Oshie-Stastny-Wheeler can chip in, because besides his shootout heroics Oshie hasn’t done all that much during actual hockey.
And while the US might say they know Quick can steal a game and that’s why they’re starting him, he hasn’t shown that ability against a team with actual weapons in a long time. Remember, that Cup run came against four pretty weak offenses (the Canucks had Kesler put together by duct tape and missing Shooty Twin, and the Blues, Coyotes, and Devils aren’t exactly the 80s Oilers. They’re not even the 2000s Oilers). After all, he didn’t manage too many heroics against the Hawks last spring, did he?
The US blue line has been fantastic, but they’re not going to be able to shield Quick to the point where he’s not going to have to come up with big saves and fair number of them. This is the ultimate test for what is a young American defense, and we can’t say for sure how they’re going to react.
This is also your gamethread. Let’s kick this pig!