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Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Quarterfinal Preview

After an exciting preliminary round and four qualification games completed on Tuesday, the quarterfinal matchups are set for the men’s Olympic ice hockey tournament early Wednesday morning. Low-scoring games have been the trend so far in the tournament, and goals have been at a premium more so than ever before. This is not a trend I expect to see come to an end moving forward in the tournament. Watch for goaltenders to stay on top of their game and really take over in this one-and-done format.

(8) Slovenia vs. (1) Sweden Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 3am, NBCSN (on-campus cable channel 76.42)

Sweden advances into the elimination round of the tournament as the only team to win all three of its pool play games in regulation, however they by no means did they dominate their opponents. After jumping out to a 4-0 lead just over four minutes into the second period of their opening game against the Czech Republic, the Swedish offense went cold for the rest of the game, allowing the Czechs to climb back into the contest, however they survived, winning by a score of 4 to 2. Their next game saw the goal-scoring drought continue against a pesky Swiss team, but a Daniel Alfredsson goal with 7:21 remaining in the final frame was all they needed against the best defensive team in the preliminary round (it was the only goal in three games allowed by the Swiss), scraping by to a 1-0 win. Heavily favored in their final preliminary game against the winless Latvian squad, the Swedes continued to let the underdogs stick around before pulling out a win 5-3. The Latvians had a chance to tie the game at four late in the third period but elite goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stopped a Martins Karsums breakaway bid, which was followed shortly thereafter by a put-away goal by Alex Edler that sealed the victory and the number one overall seed for the Swedes. Already without Henrik Sedin for the tournament with an injury, Sweden lost its captain Henrik Zetterberg for the tournament to an injury in its game against the Czechs and could be without forward Carl Hagelin who left the Latvian game with an injury as well. These losses will test the depth of the underperforming Swedes for the rest of the tournament.

The Swedes should expect to be challenged by the Slovenians, who are making their first appearance in ice hockey in the Olympics. Team Slovenia is a relative unknown, featuring only one NHLer on its roster (Los Angeles’ forward Anze Kopitar), and finished its pool play with a record of 1-2, with losses to Russia and the United States and a 3-1 win over the team from Slovakia. The Slovenians shut out the Austrian squad early Tuesday morning in the qualification round to set up the match up with the Swedes on Wednesday morning. A country with only 900 registered hockey players (all ages) and 7 roofed ice rinks, the Slovenian team is calling this Olympic run “Mission: Impossible,” and while I don’t see it being impossible for the Slovenians to win this game, I don’t think they will be able to keep up. I think it will be close the first period and a half to two periods before the Swedes run away with the win. Sweden, 4-1.

(5) Russia vs. (4) Finland Wednesday, Feb. 19, 7:30am, NBCSN

This, to me, is the most intriguing matchup of the four quarterfinals and one that will be worth losing a couple hours of sleep for on Wednesday morning. Before the tournament started I probably would have gone with the Russians over the Finns, however the Russians limped their way through the preliminary round, opening with a 5-2 victory over the Slovenians which at times looked as though it could have gone either way. The Russians second game was one you might have heard about: a 3-2 shootout loss to the United States that could have been one of the best preliminary round games in Olympic hockey history. The game was not without controversy though, as an apparent Fedor Tyutin go-ahead goal was waved off with under five minutes remaining in regulation time because the net was slightly off its left mooring. Under NHL rules, the goal would have counted, as the net has to be completely off for the play to be stopped, however the Olympics are played under International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) rules, in which the rule states that the net can be only partially off and the play still must be blown dead. The Russians went on to lose in an epic eight-round shootout (see CZE-USA preview below). Although an incredibly well-played game by the Russians, the no-goal call left a sour taste in the team’s (and the country’s) mouth, as a number of players voiced their displeasure with the call after the game and accused U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick of intentionally dislodging the cage. The distracted Russians needed a shootout to not only win the following game against the lowly Slovaks, but they needed the shootout just to prove they could put one in the net. They won the game 1-0, behind 27 saves from goalie Semyon Varlamov. A 4-0 win over the last-seeded Norwegians in the qualification round Tuesday morning for the Russians put them into the quarters, but even against the worst team in the field was not smooth sailing for a team that entered as a team many expected to take the gold. Their opening goal, coming 4:12 into the second period, was the team’s first goal in over 101 minutes of game action in the tournament, something that won’t fly for a team that relies on a good-not-great goalkeeper, especially moving forward against the world’s elite.

Finland, on the other hand, is trending in an upright direction. Coming off big wins against Austria (8-4) and Norway (6-1), the Finns finished their preliminary round with a hard-fought 2-1 overtime loss to the consensus pre-tournament favorite Canada. Underdogs against the high-powered Canadians, the Finns looked really strong in this game, especially defensively, really limited Canada’s offense to low quality scoring chances. The Finns have quietly proven themselves to be serious medal contenders and will be a very tough out for any team they have to face. I overlooked them in my pre-tournament piece, but they have proven to be the real deal. They face the tough task of essentially having to play a road game against the host Russians, but I think that if they continue to play top-notch defensive hockey and can continue to keep the high-powered Russian offense relatively quiet like they have been all tournament, the Finns will come out on top. However, if the Finns allow the Russians to score first in opening ten minutes of the game, they will have a tough hill to climb. If Finland can prevent this from happening, they will take the crowd out of the game and will be able to come away with the win. Finland, 2-1.

(11) Latvia vs. (3) Canada Wednesday, Feb. 19 at noon, MSNBC*

*MSNBC is not included on the on-campus cable listing, however the game can be streamed live with the NBC Live Extra app or on NBCSports.com with your home cable login.

Team Canada breathed a major sigh of relief on Tuesday when the Latvians upset the ever-pesky Swiss national team in the qualification round by a score of 3-1. The Swiss are a team I highlighted in my pre-tournament piece as a potential Cinderella in this tournament, and I probably would have picked their shutdown defense to shock the hockey world with a win over the Canadians. However, Switzerland’s lack of offense helped the previously winless Latvians pull off a pretty substantial upset. The Latvians had previously lost to the Swiss in their opening game of the tournament 1-0 on a Simon Moser goal with just 7.9 seconds remaining in regulation, before losing 4-2 to the Czech Republic and 5-3 to Sweden. Normally a team that gets blown out of the water in international competition, the Latvians were surprising competitive in the toughest of the three preliminary pools.

Captain Sidney Crosby has been surprisingly irrelevant for the Canadian squad so far in the team’s three preliminary games, with no goals and two assists. His team, however, has fared just fine without his production, winning all three of its preliminary games. A slow start against Norway to open the tournament got the Canadians off on the wrong foot, but they were able to pull out a 3-1 win that should have probably been bigger. The team rebounded with a solid 6-0 win over Austria the following day, before closing with an eye-opening 2-1 overtime win over the Finns. This game will likely serve as a wake-up call to the Canadians, who opened the tournament against two of the tournament’s weaker teams. Crosby isn’t the only Canadian forward having a quiet tournament so far, as the team has relied on their defensemen for six of their eleven (54.5%) goals. Although goals by defensemen certainly don’t hurt on the scoreboard, they cannot be the main source of any team’s offensive production. If all of a sudden the defense stops scoring, perhaps Canada will be in trouble but I think a matchup with the Latvians will be just what the doctor ordered for the slumping forward corps of the Canadians. The Latvians allowed the second-most shots on goal in the preliminary round with 107, second to just the Austrians who allowed 133. Reversely, Canada allowed by far the fewest at just 58, more than half as few as the Latvians, albeit against different (and frankly weaker) offenses. The Latvians will need to capitalize on the few scoring chances they get and will really have to clamp down on their defense if they want to be competitive in this game and minimize Canadians chances. I think Canada will just be too much for tiny Latvia in this David vs. Goliath matchup. Canada, 5-1.

(7) Czech Republic vs. (2) United States Wednesday, Feb. 19 at noon, USA network (on-campus channel 78.2)

If there’s one team that’s surprised me in the preliminary round, it’s undoubtedly the United States. When their roster was announced last month there were some questionable omissions to the lineup and it seemed as though this may be a tough tournament for the United States, but after the preliminary round, it appears to be anything but that. The United States has looked impressive all tournament long, opening with a 7-1 win over Slovakia, before beating Russia 3-2 in a shootout and beating Slovenia 5-1. The Americans used a six goal second period against Slovakia to break the game wide open in the team’s tournament debut. It was an impressive sixty minute effort for the American squad that had a lot of question marks coming into the tournament. In the very highly anticipated second game against the Russians, T.J. Oshie emerged as a star in the team’s come from behind 3-2 shootout victory, scoring on four of six shootout attempts, including two to keep the Americans alive. Under NHL rules, players can only shoot once per shootout, but under IIHF rules, after the initial three shooters take their turns, anyone can shoot in the sudden death rounds. Oshie opened the shootout with a goal, but at the end of the regulation shootout, the score was 1-1, so it was extended, and Oshie, a St. Louis Blues product, took shots four through eight, winning the game on the eighth, beating Russia’s Varlomov five-hole. The Americans carried the momentum into its final game against Slovenia, finishing off the preliminary round with another impressive win, 5-1. Team USA has really captivated the nation and is looking for another deep run in this year’s elimination round, and from what I’ve seen, I don’t think there’s a team in this field the Americans can’t beat.

The Czechs, along with the Swiss, are a team I named as a potential Cinderella in this tournament, but they will certainly have their hands full against the United States. The team had a bit of a disappointing preliminary round, beating just the Latvians 4-2 but losing to Sweden 4-2 and the Swiss 1-0. The team jumped out to a big 4-0 lead in the qualification round against their hated rivals and fellow countrymen the Slovaks before allowing them to come all the way back to make it 4-3 before sealing a 5-3 win on an empty-netter. Had the score stayed 4-0 or 4-1 I think the United States would be a little more scared, but allowing a four goal lead late in the second period become a one goal lead halfway through the third is pretty demoralizing and could physically and mentally beat up the Czech team. It certainly won’t be an easy one Wednesday afternoon for the Americans, but I believe that with how the Americans have played lately, they will be able to pull this one out without too much of a problem. USA, 4-2.

I will be back to preview the women’s gold medal game between Canada and the United States on Wednesday as well as on Thursday to recap the men’s quarterfinals and to look ahead to the semifinal games on Thursday, but until then, enjoy the hockey.

Posted by on February 18, 2014. Filed under Around the Hub. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.