The United States. Finland. Canada. Slovakia. These are the four teams who will compete for a medal in men's ice hockey at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Today's winners will go for the glory and compete for a gold medal. Today's losers will play for the bronze tomorrow.
With respect to the New Jersey Devils, Patrik Elias (2 G, 2 A, 2 PIM, -1, 16 SOG) and Ilya Kovalchuk (1 G, 2 A, +1, 14 SOG) have to feel disappointed that their Olympic ventures have ended so suddenly. Overall the production doesn't look so bad, but neither stepped up when it counted (though in Kovalchuk's case, nobody on Russia remotely "stepped" up against Canada). I would guess that assistant coach Tommy Albelin should also return at that time, as Sweden was also shocked out of the quarterfinals.
Both will return to the Devils on Saturday when the team travels to San Jose for practice, per Tom Gulitti's report on Thursday. Speaking of the Devils, Gulitti also has had an important interview with Paul Martin regarding his arm injury - Martin hopes to be back by March 10 when the Devils will host Our Hated Rivals.
Please use this post to place all your comments about both games (and just these games, not any other events). If you're so inclined, SBN's Winter Olympic side will have a GameThread for the games. I'll update this post to include that when it goes live.
February 26, 2010 - Men's Ice Hockey Semifinals
3 PM EST/12 PM PST - Semifinal #1: The United States vs. Finland - NBC
FINAL: Absolutely brilliant first period by the Americans. 6 goals in the first period. A shot taking a deflection off of Jack Johnson was the only time America was beaten and it was Tim Thomas in net. 6-1 USA. Official box score.
9 PM EST/6 PM PST - Semifinal #2: Canada vs. Slovakia - CNBC
FINAL: The vast majority of the game was all Canada's and Slovakia looked out of sorts. Yet, Canada couldn't add more than 3 and Slovakia got a lifeline and a second goal late in the third period. Slovakia threw everything and the kitchen sink forward late, Canada couldn't handle Slovakia all of the sudden, and Pavol Demitra was robbed of a fantastic rebound attempt late. Canada went into the third period with a 3-0 lead, but ends up escaping to the gold medal final with a 3-2 win. Official box score.
Want to watch the games online and legally? For the Americans, NBC has streaming options. For the Canadians, CTV has streams. Thanks to user C.J.Richey121 for the NBC information and to user dchoubak about CTV. Read on for some Real Talk for each of the four teams going into this event.
Ah, Real Talk. When you just need some hard-hitting commentary, there's nothing harder than the reality of the situation. For a bit of a preview, I'm pointing out one area where each of the four teams needs to do better at and/or excel to succeed today.
Real Talk for the United States
The United States are playing rather well. They haven't been beaten in this tournament yet, and that's pretty impressive considering this team has been annoyingly bad in their own zone when it comes to clearances. When the Americans have the puck in their own zone and just need to dump it out to get some space and catch their breath, the clearances have been soft and/or right at the opposition's point-men. Against Canada, the poor clearances drastically helped Canada outshoot the Americans 45-23. Against the Swiss, the US only conceded but had to block at least 20 shots in the process. On some shifts, I would have settled for an icing rather than the umpteenth half-speed, softly-touched clearance that gets picked off. I'm sure the coaches would too.
All this does is make the game unnecessarily more difficult for Ryan Miller and the Americans. It hasn't burned them yet, but it needs to end before it does. Finland will take far more advantage of the opportunities than a Switzerland team devoid of offense or a Canadian team that was playing well below their capabilities. Seriously. Stick on puck, look up, and fire it along the boards. This shouldn't be so difficult. If it doesn't change, it will very well be and the U.S. will have no one to blame but themselves.
Real Talk for Finland
I got a chance to check out the last two Finland games and quite frankly, I'm not impressed. Where's the fire? Where's the intensity? Sweden kept handing Finland power play after power play and I never seen so little done with so much on a power play since the February 8, 2010 Devils-Flyers game. Even on some of the penalty kills, Sweden had more confident and composed puck possession. Against the Czech Republic, sure, Finland got a PPG to go ahead and win. Yet, throughout most of the game, the match was so evenly played that it seemed neither wanted to set the tempo themselves.
This isn't going to get it done against an American team that has succeeded by hitting, hustling, and hardy play. I'm not saying Finland is soft - Tuomo Ruutu may find me and punch me in the face for suggesting otherwise. Unless Finland plans on controlling the puck and slowing this game to a crawl or relying on Miikka Kiprusoff to play out of his mind (ask the Swiss how that worked out), this isn't a favorable scenario for the Finns. Like the other three teams, they have the chance to play for a gold medal; yet, there's a real chance this could get ugly if they aren't even going to try taking initiative - especially on power plays.
Real Talk for Slovakia
Admittedly, I haven't seen much of Slovakia in these Olympics. Yet, hockey is a results-oriented business and Slovakia's on a four game winning streak. It started with a shootout win over Russia, a 6-0 rout of Latvia, beating Norway 4-3, and last seen knocking off the defending Olympic champions Sweden, 4-3. Combine this with the fact that their opponents regulation wins have all come against lesser teams (Norway, Germany) or a normally excellent team playing awful (Russia), and the Slovak players should have absolutely nothing to worry about.
That should be the attitude going into this game because worrying about the opposition or just being happy in the semifinals will lead to a certain Canadian win. Yes, the Slovakia supporters should be just pleased at seeing their team get this far. Yet, the opportunity for even greater glory is there. If anything, the Slovak players should understand that just playing aggressive and in-your-face to Canada is the best way to play them - just look at their games against the Swiss and the U.S. Sure, Jaroslav Halak will have to have a big game; but the attitude was central to their performances. Basically, play like you have nothing to lose, Slovakia, because you'll have everything to gain from it against Canada.
Real Talk for Canada
Congratulations, Canada. You played very well above a team that played below it's level that night in Russia and only shown signs of letting up after being up 7-1. I'm not being sarcastic. In a tournament like this, you have to take advantage when you can and you did just that. Moreover, you lucked out at not having to play Sweden. I'm sure some (many? most?) Canadian fans are all looking forward to Sunday afternoon's gold medal game - perhaps hoping the U.S. will win their semifinal to set up a gigantic revenge game. Hey, the Olympics haven't gone so well for Canada, as the podium looks to be American owned; but a double gold in hockey would help with the pain, right?
I would hope this isn't your attitude, players of Canada's national team. If it is, you will lose this game. Your biggest enemies in this tournament have been yourselves. To quickly recap: not responding well to the aggressive play by the Swiss and Americans, blowing opportunities (if not shooting outright) to score when 9 times out of 10 the NHL all-star with the puck would score in a situation, and some bizarrely sloppy play in your own zone. All correctable by the players. Yes, the 7-3 win over Russia was fine; but was that the real Canada? Would that game have happened if Russia showed up for this game? Would something similar show up against a Slovakian team that will show up?
Reverting back to the form seen in the preliminary rounds is not the way to victory today. Overconfidence will be your downfall. This may surprise some of you, but hockey isn't your game - it's the world's game and a quick look at Olympic and IIHF World Championship history will remind you if you're not certain. Canada does not have a divine right to the podium; but if you want to get there and grab the gold, then you'll have to play with ice water in your veins and with a purpose right from faceoff.