That’s it. I am done with predictions when it comes to this Olympic men’s hockey tournament. Before the Games started, I said Russia would beat Canada in the gold medal game. Then, I emphatically said the Canadians would outplay the U.S. in pool play. Not content with myself after the first week of action proved those predictions laughable, I sided with the Russians over Canada in last night’s quarterfinal game. Finally, I went on record saying Sweden would defeat the U.S. for the gold medal.
Let’s get in the 4 Sport Boston time machine and see how I am doing so far …
Russia over Canada for the gold medal: Um, they met in the quarterfinals in a loser leaves town match.
Canada would outplay Team USA in pool play: We can debate which team played the better game, but the Americans capitalized on chances and played much better than I ever anticipated. They won the game and the pool.
Russia would follow Alex Ovechkin’s lead and paste Canada in the quarters: That sound you hear was Evgeni Nabakov screaming in pain from the sunburn he has after the goal light shone down on him all night. Canada with a 7-3 win over the surprisingly listless Russians.
Sweden would go back-to-back with the gold after seeing the medal round matchups: Well, Slovakia came up with a big 4-3 win early this morning to end those hopes.
To recap: I made four predictions. I was 100% wrong every time. I put the whammy down on whoever I backed every time. I guess this explains why I am the world’s worst ESPN: Beat The Streak player. Seriously, every time I see a choice where it is “Who will win the gold medal? Bode Miller or the field”, I take the field. Then that slacker ski bum goes and throws down the run of his life. WTF, dude. So, in honor of the current streak I am riding, here are a few more predictions before we get to yesterday’s games.
Anyways, the quarterfinals were filled with surprises, the biggest of which was Canada running right over the Red Army. If you had said the score would be 7-3, I would have thought Mother Russia would have the advantage. I guess I overvalued Alex Ovechkin’s singular impact on the game and forgot that the Russkies (Rooskies? I can’t remember what my dad used to call them) had a terrible defense. That would explain why Russia got ambushed in this game like it was Red Dawn. The constancy of Canada’s attack was similar to what they tried to do against the U.S. on Sunday, except this time the defense in the way was inept and the goalie standing as the last line on the blockade was not Ryan Miller.
All credit in the world to Canada for responding to the loss on Sunday with 15 goals in two games. An eight-spot against Germany was not shocking. Rolling a seven against Russia is. The scary thing about Canada is that in addition to the shock and awe offense weaving its way around teams now, the defense is beginning to clamp down as well. Canada held Russia to 31 shots on goal – only three from Alex the Great. Russia’s big artillery – Ovie, Alex Semin, Geno Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk did not come through. Mostly because the Canadian shutdown squad of Mike Richards, Rick Nash and Ryan Getzlaf was at the same time stifling chances and scoring goals of their own. I hate to say it, but the Canadians are the strong favorite at the moment after being down and out four days ago.
One of the main reasons Canada is favored is because of the day’s second surprise – Slovakia downing Sweden. With the Slovakian win, they advance to play Canada in Friday’s semis. The Swedes had been playing the best defense of any team in the tournament, putting up two shutouts in pool play. The defending champs had many players back from the 2006 gold medal squad – including goalie Henrik Lundqvist. He had been back at his top game for the first three games, but was unusually beatable in the second period last night. He allowed two goals in less that 50 seconds – on consecutive shots and Slovakia never looked back. The dagger was a Pavol Demitra goal on the power play in the final minute of the second period, giving Slovakia a 3-2 lead heading into the final stanza. In that second period, Slovakia took four shots and scored three goals. That is efficient shot making.
While the bottom of the bracket had some twists and turns, the top half went as assumed. Finland held off the Czech Republic, 2-0, in a nice – but quiet – game. The Fins will play the surprise of the tournament – Team USA. In what was a dangerous game for the Americans, they dispatched a very game Swiss team, 2-0.
The United States was in control throughout, outshooting the Swiss, 32-8 through two periods. However, there was no score and the game was as tight as possible heading into the third. Team USA was close to taking a 1-0 lead at the end of the second period, but the pinball puck deflected off Swiss keeper Jonas Hiller and in just after the clock reached 0:00. The puck was on the goal line at zeroes, but that wasn’t enough.
Zach Parise put the U.S. on the board early in the third period on the power play – a great sign for Team USA. If they are to succeed ultimately, the squad needs Parise to be scoring, especially on the man advantage. Switzerland was close to tying the game a short while later, but the Swiss’ best chance clanged off the iron and they never got close again. On the ensuing rush after the post, it looked like Team USA scored a second goal, but instead Ryan Kesler was called for a high stick in front of the net. It was a potentially game-altering swing, but the U.S. held on. Parise came up with an empty-netter to seal the win and guarantee the Americans a chance to play for a medal.
The fact that Team USA is the only undefeated team and is a lock for the bronze medal game is surprising. They clearly have taken to head coach Ron Wilson and GM Brian Burke’s approach of appreciating the underdog role and fighting for every win. Most of the games haven’t been pretty, but Team USA has come up with spectacular goaltending and some timely goals from unlikely sources to do what is necessary to stay alive. If you asked any pundit before the games if the U.S. would still be playing while Russia and Sweden are heading back to the NHL, few would have made that wager. However, as it stands, the U.S. is 60 minutes away from a gold medal tilt.
For all you Bruins fans out there, we know that at least one Bruin will return to the Garden on March 2 with a medal. In the Canada-Slovakia matchup, three Bruins will play. So, either Patrice Bergeron from Canada or Zdeno Chara and Miro Satan from Slovakia will bring at least silver back to Boston. Add in Timmy Thomas with the U.S. and the Bruins are likely to have a decent medal haul from the Olympics.
Oh, and as for predictions on Friday’s semifinal games…
Expect good hockey. That is all I am saying.