Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Men's Olympic Hockey Quarterfinal Preview

Group B #4 USA (1-3-1) vs. Group A #1 Finland (5-0) 11:35 AM ET - The Americans finally looked to shake themselves out of their funk in today's game versus Russia, pushing a very talented squad to the limit, before falling 5-4. Unfortunately, I don't think this late resurgence will be enough to handle the seemingly unstoppable Finnish squad.

If the Finns can break out to an early lead, this game will be over quickly, as the Finnish defensive system and relentless puck pursuit has proved to be too much for anybody to handle. Finland managed to hold their opponents to an unheard of two goals during the five game round robin, including four shutouts.

Expect a big game from Rick Dipietro, but ultimately, the Finns should prevail, 4-2.

Group B #3 Sweden (3-2) vs. Group A #2 Switzerland(2-2-1) 10:35 AM ET - Sweden hasn't yet played to their full potential. On paper, this is a total mismatch. After big-game wins over Canada and the Czech Republic by Switzerland, expectations have risen. I'm not sure which Swiss goalie to expect. Both Aebischer and Gerber have had their moments, and it was Gerber who stole the show against Team Canada with a 49-save shutout.

With Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin, Markus Nasland, Niklas Lidstrom and the Sedin Twins, Sweden just has too much firepower not to prevail in this one. At the same time, Sweden managed to lose to Belerus in the quarterfinals during the last world cup, so anything can happen. Expect a 6-3 win by Sweden.

Group B #2 Russia (4-1) vs. Group A #3 Canada (3-2) 2:35 PM ET - This is the blockbuster matchup we've all been waiting for. Too bad it had to happen in the first round of the quarterfinals. Watching video highlights from today's Russia-USA matchup, with highlight-real goals from Malkin, Ovechkin and company makes me nervous. Russia is an insanely skilled team.

Team Canada has yet to register a full game to be proud of. The 3rd period against Switzerland was the best I've seen them play, outshooting the opposition 24-1, but Martin Gerber was somehow able to keep them off the scoresheet.

If Canada is to win this game, they are going to need a heroic effort from Martin Brodeur. Brodeur had an amazing game today against the Czech Republic. They are also going to need a total team effort, which is something they have yet to display in this tournament. They need to play like Team Finland, beating opponents to the puck and winning the battles against the boards. This game is really a tossup, but I'll give the edge to Canada, 4-3.

Group B #1 Slovakia (5-0) vs. Group A #4 Czech Republic (2-3) 3:35 PM ET - Both of these teams are dangerous offensive units. The Czechs are led by the ever-dangerous Jaromir Jagr, and a maturing quarterbacking defenseman in Tomas Kaberle, who no longer appears to be afraid to shoot the puck. Slovakia has the second-most dangerous line in the Olympics, with Hossa, Gaborik and Demitra -- arguably more skilled than the Finnish line, but without quite the same level of production and chemistry.

Tomas Vokoun gives the Czechs an edge in goal. Slovakia doesn't really have a consensus #1 goalie - they have started three different goalies who have all played well. I would expect Peter Budaj to get the nod.

While the talent levels on these two teams are comparable, Slovakia has been playing much better as a team. Expect Slovakia to prevail 5-3.


Finland 4 - USA 2
Sweden 6 - Switzerland 3
Canada 4 - Russia 3
Slovakia 5 - Czech Repulic 3