Big game...biggest game since '02 for the boys in red, white and blue. Seems like the rest of the nation is starting to pull up behind the team and follow hockey. It's just nice that its at the top of Sportscenter and other shows. But I digress. I'm ready for 2 pm to roll around!
The Olympics final four
By Ken Daneyko, Yahoo! Sports 9 hours, 53 minutes ago
Buzz up! 2
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – At first blush, you can make the argument that the bloom has been taken off the rose a little because Sweden and Russia aren’t playing in the semi-finals. And yes, having these two great hockey nations represented in the final four would have been great.
But the countries’ two teams at this Olympics just didn’t seem like they wanted it enough. The tournament, and the people buying the tickets here in Vancouver, is better served having four teams that are battling so hard to grab the gold medal. Tradition is nice, but in this case, the four teams remaining have more than earned the right to be in the medal hunt.
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And man, the Slovakians, Americans, Finns and host Canadians have shown true grit and determination over the past 10 days. Friday will see some tough, hard-hitting showdowns that will sure to please all hockey fans.
Some full disclosure here – I know I should be impartial about my selections for the two teams that will be going for gold on Sunday afternoon. I feel the passion and the excitement of the potential (and historic) rematch between Canada-USA as most hockey fans in North America do, too. Vancouver is buzzing about it, and it’s made the anticipation of these semifinals all the more thrilling.
But first, those two teams face difficult opponents on Semifinal Friday. Here’s what I think are the key matchups to watch.
Canada comes into this game with all cylinders firing in decisive victories over Germany and Russia. Coach Mike Babcock’s crew will need to keep playing the tough and fast-paced game they displayed against Germany and Russia to make it to the finals. But they will have to go through talented Slovakian forwards Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra to get there.
To do that, Canada’s line of Rick Nash, Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards, along with the checking line of defensemen Shea Weber and Scott Niedermayer, will have to play exactly as they did against Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin in Wednesday’s lopsided win over the Russians.
Canada’s depth is so strong; I don’t see how it could falter against a game Slovakian team. But one man who will try to stop them will be Slovakia’s giant of a defenseman, Zdeno Chara. He’s a strong defender, but can he handle the speed and strength of the Canadian forwards, including the Sidney Crosby-Jarome Iginla-Eric Staal line?
It’s not going to be easy for Canada. It’s been said that the Slovakians are playing the way everyone expected the Russians to play. And don’t forget that Slovakia beat Russia in the preliminary round with containment in the neutral zone. I don’t see this happening to Canada as its forwards are just that much better and deeper.
What will it take to upset Canada?
I don’t think Slovakia will be able to upset Canada. But it will take the heroics of Slovakian goalie Jaroslav Halak to stop the Canadian onslaught. Halak will be facing at least 35-40 shots – and he has little margin for error. It’s a mammoth task, but one that can be done – just ask Team USA, which rode Ryan Miller’s netminding to a win over Canada last weekend.
Like they did against the Russians, the Slovakian team will need to clog the neutral zone to keep this a closely contested game. Along with Chara, Buffalo’s Andrej Sekera and Tampa Bay’s Andrej Meszaros will need to slow down Canada’s strong forwards and reduce their shots on goal.
I think Canada has too much depth. Nothing is impossible, but an upset against Canada is improbable.
Prediction: Canada 5, Slovakia 2
This is the game of the day for me. After the tough one against Switzerland on Wednesday, I’ll be watching to see how the Americans manage the Finnish forwards.
Rick Nash of Canada competes against Germany.
(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Finland has a lot of elite-level talent with Olli Jokinen, the Koivu brothers, the Ruutu brothers and Teemu Selanne – this is a team with great NHL power up front.
One of the more interesting lines I’m watching is Finland’s third group which includes Jokinen and Jarkko Ruutu. Ottawa’s Ruutu is one of the agitators that can cause a lot of problems for his opponents. It’s expected that Jokinen-Ruutu will be up against the Zach Parise-Jamie Langenbrunner-Paul Stastny line, which are all under pressure to produce for Team USA. Will the hard-hitting Ruutu match up against U.S.’s top line, which is looking to rack up Brian Rafalski-like numbers, USA’s top player so far this tournament.
Team USA will need to rely on its speed and strength. The Americans have to keep doing what they’ve done since their opening game. Their all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude has seen them through the tournament this far. They will need to keep up this attitude to beat the tough Finnish team.
I think this will be a close, but hard-fought game. I think Team USA is a more unified and cohesive group, and that will frustrate the Finns. And of course, we can’t forget the wonder – and story of the Olympics so far – the goaltending of Ryan Miller.
Prediction: USA 2, Finland 1
The difference-makers to watch
For Slovakia, you have to watch for Chara, captain of the Boston Bruins. He’s going to have to shut down the Canadian forwards, put in the long minutes (at least 25 minutes) and he’s going to have to play the game of his life if Slovakia has a chance to upset the host nation.
Vancouver Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo needs to pick up his game a notch from the way he played against Russia. He was good, but not great. He will need to stop almost every puck coming his way. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he’s bad. But he’ll need to be solid for Canada and play the game of his life to move on to the gold-medal game.
For Finland, I’m choosing their goalie, too. The Finns produce such great goalies through the years. In fact, they have the top five goalies in the NHL, three of which are on this national team. Calgary Flames standout Miikka Kiprusoff will need to play the game of his life. The American forwards are going to be aggressive and Kiprusoff will probably face a few dozen shots on goal and he will need to give the Finns the kind of netminding greatness he delivers in Calgary on a near nightly basis.
Finally, for Team USA, I’m choosing someone we haven’t seen much from yet. Patrick Kane is the kind of player who is quiet for a few games, which he has been so far during the Olympics. It’s nothing the American’s need to worry about though. Kane is a highly skilled player and he’s due to explode for his team. I think Kane will shine on Friday. I’m looking to see him improve his points’ total with a goal, moving the Americans to the gold-medal showdown – probably against the Canadians.