Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gold and Bronze medal games preview

I really messed up, didn't I?

Russia was blown out. Sweden lost. USA won by a small margin, then blew out the Finns, who had previously owned the Czechs. Now to turn a new page...

Finland vs Slovakia: Bronze-medal game
Finland is coming off a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the Americans. Miikka Kiprusoff was flat-out awful, the Finn offense anemic. If there are positives though, they are that the Finns played better and better as the game went along and didn't even allow a goal after Patrick Kane made it 6-0 just under thirteen minutes into the first.
Slovakia meanwhile has a ton of positives to look to. Jaroslav Halak has continued to play great, and the Slovakian offense now in their last two games has really come alive in the late stages of the game, first against Sweden then against Canada. Their NHLers are really coming through for them.
Don't expect a repeat here. This may be the last Winter Olympics for many Finns, including Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Jere Lehtinen among others. If it's close until late in the 3rd period, expect these veterans to ramp up their game and nullify the Slovakian push.

Prediction: Finland 4, Slovakia 3 (OT)

USA vs Canada: Gold-medal game
As Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun agreed, the USA is playing the best hockey coming into this game. Patrick Kane and Paul Stastny have come alive, creating space for one another, Brian Rafalski and the rest of the American defense corps continue to impress, and it's been "Miller Time" this entire Olympic tournament. The American team has stayed calm, even with big leads, under the leadership of Ron Wilson, for all but a few times in their group game against Canada, and that really speaks to their maturity. They are fast, determined, hungry, and have the best goalie in the tournament.
At the other end, the Canadian win over Slovakia was pretty unimpressive. Yes, Canada did shut down Slovakia's offense for 50+ minutes. Yes, they were leading 3-0. Yes, they outshot the Slovaks by quite a bit. But they never put the game away. Roberto Luongo looked "uncomfortable" in net. And then after that first Slovak goal by Lubomir Visknovsky, then, Canada fell apart and were lucky Pavol Demitra couldn't get the puck over Luongo's glove in the final seconds. Sidney Crosby's line once again failed to find chemistry. In short, Canada is a mess right now.
When Canada beat Russia, the Eric Staal-Sidney Crosby-Jarome Iginla line was clicking. Now, Crosby's line isn't, and Babcock demoted Iginla to the fourth line as a result. If the Americans can disrupt Crosby's line, Babcock will be forced to shuffle all his lines, with the sideaffect of disrupting any chemistry his wingers and centers may have. And now Canada can't be comfortable in goal, ironically, with Martin Brodeur unimpressive, Luongo shaken, and Marc-Andre Fleury not having played in this tourney yet. All this bodes well for the Yanks south of the border. Who'da thunk?

Prediction: USA 5, Canada 3
And for the second straight international ice hockey tourney in 2010...

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