WC Semifinals: And then there were 3 Devils...

The Quarterfinals have ended today: Russia beat Belarus 4-3, USA defeated Finland 3-2, Canada downed Latvia 4-2, and Sweden knocked off the Czech Republic 3-1.

It was a quiet Quarterfinal for the Devils. Scott Clemmensen was just a back up for USA's win over Finland - a game that featured a ton of shooting: 49 by Finland and 35 by America.  Yet, it was defenseman Ryan Suter's goal in the second that ended up being unanswered by the Finns.  Given that Robert Esche stood up fairly well to the onslaught of shots by Finland (20 in the first period!), I wouldn't expect Clemmensen to get any minutes soon.

The rest of the Devils took only penalties in their respective games. Travis Zajac took a slashing call in the first period, something on the statline other than shots (2) for the center.  He'll get another chance in the Semifinals to get a point.  Patrik Elias, along with 4 shots and 18:30 of ice time, took a costly delay of game call seconds after Miroslav Blatak took a slashing penalty.  Bizarrely, this didn't hurt the Czech Republic - Petr Cajanek took it down ice and scored the Czech's only goal against Sweden.  Johnny Oduya didn't earn any points; only 2 minutes for roughing - matching with Cajanek for the same call.  I guess a little roughhousing was afoot?   Oduya did play 22:42, with 9:42 of that ice time coming in the third period.   He must have earned the trust of the coaching staff to help protect that lead.

Anyway, Patrik Elias' season is now complete, the Czechs are eliminated, and the Semifinals are set for tomorrow:

Russia vs. United States (Clemmensen)

These two teams played each other in the Qualifying Round, with Russia comfortably winning 4-1 mainly the on the strength of 3 power play goals.  The American penalty killing needs to be on point.  Given that he stood up to Finland's barrage of shots on Tuesday, Esche will likely be the starter.  So don't expect Clemmensen to actually play unless A) Esche gets hurt or B) Esche gets shelled.  And B is very likely given Russia's high-powered offense.  He'll have to play  incredibly well to even give his teammates a chance to fight back.  I'd also suggest that the American defense keep a close eye on Ilya Kovalchuk - if they could catch him. Kovalchuk is behind only St. Louis in points with 4 goals and 8 assists  so far.  Expect him to add to his totals on Friday. Russia is still the favorite here and it wouldn't surprise me if they move onto the medal round.

Canada (Zajac) vs. Sweden (Oduya)

Now, Canada and Sweden didn't see each other in the Qualifying Round, so this game has some more mystery to it.  Canada is just overflowing with talent. Steven Stamkos is tied with Niko Kapanen (whose tournament is over) in leading the WCs in goals (7), Martin St. Louis leads the WCs in points with 4 goals and 10 assists,  and Shea Weber has piled up the points (4 G, 7 A) from the blueline. Their power play has been successful at a frightening rate of 43.9%!  And they have players like Travis Zajac who have yet to join in on the offense!   Similar to USA, I would think that Sweden needs to have a fantastic game on defense and in net just to avoid Canada skating all over them!  Tre Kronor's blueline has provided plenty of quality minutes from Dick Tarnstrom, Magnus Johansson, Johnny Oduya, and Kenny Jonsson.  They will need to play like stalwarts against the Canadian attack.  If they can, Sweden's offense should be enough to get what they need - but they have to keep this one close.  Like the other Semifinal, Canada is the favorite and it shouldn't be a surprise if they just over power Sweden.

Regardless of the results, all four national teams will still have a another game to play on Sunday. The winners will play for the Gold Medal, the losers will play for the Bronze Medal.   Meaning, all three Devils have another chance to make their marks on the 2009 WCs. Best of luck to all involved tomorrow.

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