Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Sleeping Giant Awakes

Well, sort of...

Canada scored it's first goal in three games, roaring out to a 3-0 lead over the Czech Republic in the first period. The scoreless draught ended on a weak wrister from the blueline by Brad Richards. Canada followed it up with a powerplay goal by Martin St. Louis from a very weak angle, and then a powerful slapshot from a wide open Chris Pronger to open up a three goal first period lead. From that point on, Canada played just well enough to manage to hold on to the lead, thanks in large part to a heroic goaltending effort from Martin Brodeur. It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't anything to be too confident about, but Canada managed to break a two-game winless streak.

On second thought - maybe Canada was trying to lose :) The win pushed Canada up to third place in the Group standings. They tied Switzerland with 6 points each, but since Switzerland beat Canada in head-to-head play, the Canadians took the third seed, drawing Group B Second seed juggernaut Russia. This is not exactly the first round opponent either team wants to face.

Earlier today, Team Sweden's coach suggested that they would consider losing on purpose to avoid drawing Team Canada in the quarterfinals. If Canada lost, they would have fallen to fourth in the conference, and drawn a 5-0 Slovakia team, which isn't much of an upgrade.

Team Finland continued their stupendous play, shutting out Germany 2-0, and improving to a perfect 5-0. In the five game round robin, Finland gave up a total of 2 goals, outscoring their opponents 19-2 and registering 4 shutouts. In addition, the top scoring line for Finland, Lehtonen, Koivu and Selanne have combined for 11 goals and 26 points in 5 games. Selanne and Koivu are tied for first in scoring in the Olympic tournament, while Lehtonen is fourth in tournament scoring. I believe the Finnish powerplay and penalty kill are both ranked first in the tournament.

Swedish coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson got his wish, as the Swedes fell 3-0 to Slovakia to draw Switzerland in the quarterfinals. The International ice Hockey Federation sent Kalervo Kummola, chief of the Finnish Hockey Association, to watch the game ensure that nothing fishy occured. I didn't get a chance to watch the game, but after losing 5-0 to Russia earlier in the week, I'm not sure that Sweden has what it takes to win this tournament.

USA finally put up a fight, but the Russians proved too strong, prevailing 5-4 in a close-fought match. The fact that USA managed to put up a fight against the Russians means that the USA-Finland quarterfinal tomorrow should at least be interesting. Backup goaltender Maxim Sokolov played the game for Russia, and gave up 3 goals on 26 shots. Robert Esche gave up 5 goals on only 21 shots, which doesn't sound so hot. Look for Dipietro to be back in the net in the quarterfinals. To Esche's credit, the Korolyuk goal was on a breakaway, the Malkin goal was on a huge two-on-one break, Markov was wide-open and had all the time in the world on his goal, and the Ovechkin-Malkin play was a beautiful one-timer. I wouldn't blame Esche on any of those - Russia is a scary-talented team. The only goal Esche should have had was the blistering slapshot by Kovalev from the point.