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Olympic Hockey 2014: B/R Expert Predictions for Winter Olympics

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterFebruary 10, 2014

Olympic Hockey 2014: B/R Expert Predictions for Winter Olympics

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The men's ice hockey portion of the 2014 Sochi Olympics is upon us, so it's time to unveil our experts' predictions for the upcoming tournament.

    Will Canada follow its 2010 gold medal in Vancouver and repeat as champions? Which goaltender will steal the show the way Finland's Antero Niittymaki did at the 2006 Olympics in Torino? Which player will fall flat and disappoint on the international stage?

    Offering their predictions on these topics and more are Jonathan WillisAdrian Dater, Steve MacfarlaneAllan Mitchell, Lyle Richardson, Carol Schram, Rob Vollman and myself

    So check out our prognostications, feel free to leave picks of your own and, of course, use the comments section to praise us for our genius.

Adrian Dater

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    What will be the must-watch game of the group stage?

    Group A, USA vs. Russia, Feb. 15.

    This is by far the best game in the group stage, although Finland vs. Canada the following day will be a good one. But the Russians vs. the Americans—it might not be 1980 anymore, but these countries will always bring heat to any competitive event.

     

    Which team will be the biggest surprise?

    Slovakia. Peter Budaj will have a big tournament, with Zdeno Chara doing yeoman's work in front of him.

     

    Which team will be the biggest disappointment?

    United States. Just not the right mix of players on the big ice sheet. 

     

    Which superstar will flop?

    Jonathan Toews. He won't do well on the big ice sheet. He's a great player, but not a good enough skater for this kind of tournament.

     

    Which goaltender will be most impressive?

    Semyon Varlamov, Russia.

     

    Who will be the tournament MVP?

    Alex Ovechkin, Russia.

     

    The medal winners will be…

    Gold: Russia

    Silver: Canada

    Bronze: Sweden

Dave Lozo

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    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    What will be the must-watch game of the group stage?

    One of the tournament's first games will be a matchup you won't want to miss. Sweden will play the Czech Republic on Feb. 12, with the winner likely to capture Group C. 



    Which team will be the biggest surprise?

    Switzerland has just enough NHL talent on the roster to give the perennial powers a problem in the elimination round. The Swiss have four NHL defensemen and Jonas Hiller in net, which will help them win some low-scoring contests.



    Which team will be the biggest disappointment?

    Finland has been ravaged by injuries and time. Tuukka Rask, the likely starter in net, is outstanding but he won't be able to rescue this squad that's missing Valtteri Filppula and Mikko Koivu and features far too many 30-somethings on defense.



    Which superstar will flop?

    Center Pavel Datsyuk will have a tough time playing in his home country. He only played in two games before the break after missing 14 with a lower-body injury. Russia has tough matchups in Group A and great expectations. All that will lead to a less-than-impressive tournament for Datsyuk.



    Which goaltender will be most impressive?

    Jaroslav Halak of Slovakia carried his team to bronze at the 2010 Olympics and he'll rise to the occasion again in 2014. He finished the NHL schedule strong, going 4-1-1 with a .938 save percentage in his past six games.



    Who will be the tournament MVP?

    When Sweden wins gold, it will be because of the outstanding play of Henrik Lundqvist in net. He's been his old self with the Rangers for the past five-plus weeks and will find himself behind an outstanding defense corps in this tournament.



    The medal winners will be…

    Gold: Sweden

    Silver: Russia

    Bronze: United States

Steve Macfarlane

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    What will be the must-watch game of the group stage?

    Group A: USA vs. Russia. 

    The other groups don't feature the same type of competition at the top end, and the Americans won't get any bigger test than the host Russians in the group stage.

     

    Which team will be the biggest surprise?

    Finland's forward group isn't as solid as the upper-echelon teams, but the goaltending is stellar enough to make them a threat in the elimination games.

     

    Which team will be the biggest disappointment?

    Based on the 2010 silver-medal finish, it could be difficult for the U.S. to live up to that lofty standard. The Americans may be able to medal, but it's not an easy road.


    Which superstar will flop?

    Phil Kessel of Team USA is having an incredible season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the international stage may be too much for him even with linemate James van Riemsdyk by his side.

     

    Which goaltender will be most impressive?

    Sweden is a medal favorite for one major reason—Henrik Lundqvist. The New York Rangers backstop is on top of his game again at the perfect time to steal the spotlight in Sochi.

     

    Who will be the tournament MVP?

    Lundqvist gets consideration, but I have a feeling Sidney Crosby will play a huge part in Canada getting back to the final and possibly even repeating. There's no question they're the most talented team, and Crosby is their top player.

     

    The medal winners will be…

    The cream rises to the top and these group winners will all get through, with the U.S. falling just short of a medal and Sweden edging Canada in a tight gold-medal game.

    Gold: Sweden

    Silver: Canada

    Bronze: Russia

Allan Mitchell

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    What will be the must-watch game of the group stage? 

    The USA-Russia game on Feb. 15 at the Bolshy Ice Dome in Sochi. There are few times in hockey where the game and politics collide, but this game will certainly have some important people in the audience. It also helps that they are two of the best teams in the tournament.  

     

    Which team will be the biggest surprise? 

    Team Slovakia is so under the radar it may be mistaken for Team Slovenia by some. However, the roster includes an impressive number of NHL players and they won’t be an easy opponent.

     

    Which team will be the biggest disappointment? 

    The Russians won’t win the gold medal, so they will be the biggest disappointment. I do expect them to medal, though.  

     

    Which superstar will flop? 

    Alexander Ovechkin, Russia. The pressure will be immense, and there are issues with the Russian club’s defensive and goaltending decisions. Ovechkin will no doubt attempt to put the team on his back, but in an Olympic competition the odds of succeeding are not strong.  

     

    Which goaltender will be most impressive? 

    Carey Price, Canada. It’s almost a perfect storm for Price, as Canada’s goaltending is a major question going into the tournament. If he plays at his established level of excellence, Price will be a hero in Canada.  

     

    Who will be the tournament MVP? 

    Erik Karlsson, Sweden. His incredible talents on the biggest stage will be astonishing.  

     

    The medal winners will be

    Gold: Sweden

    Silver: Russia

    Bronze: Canada

Lyle Richardson

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    What will be the must-watch game of the group stage?

    USA vs Russia. Clash of two of the world's hockey superpowers. 

     

    Which team will be the biggest surprise?

    Finland. It carries three goalies (Lehtonen, Niemi, Rask) capable of upsetting strong opponents.

     

    Which team will be the biggest disappointment?

    Czech Republic. It's in a transition period and many of its key players are aging.

     

    Which superstar will flop?

    Ilya Kovalchuk. He's not exactly tearing it up in the KHL this season.

     

    Which goaltender will be most impressive?

    Tuukka Rask. He's coming into his own as an elite goaltender.

     

    Who will be the tournament MVP?

    Other than scoring the golden goal, Sidney Crosby had a quiet 2010 Olympics. Expect him to be a standout in Sochi.

     

    The medal winners will be…

    Gold: Canada

    Silver: USA

    Bronze: Sweden

     

Carol Schram

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    What will be the must-watch game of the group stage?

    Saturday, Feb. 15: USA vs. Russia.

    Desperate to erase the memory of their sixth-place finish in Vancouver and win gold on home soil, the Russians will be looking to make a statement against the 2010 silver medalists. The U.S. could make a statement of their own if it beats the hosts.

     

    Which team will be the biggest surprise?

    Switzerland. Injuries have hobbled the Swedes, Finns and Slovaks, who will all be without important top players. With rock-solid Jonas Hiller in net and emerging star Nino Niederreiter up front, the Swiss could cause some upsets.

     

    Which team will be the biggest disappointment?

    Sweden. Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen are out of the tournament, and key players like Henrik Zetterberg, Loui Eriksson and Alexander Steen are dealing the the aftermath of injuries of their own. Henrik Lundqvist can provide the goaltending, but the Swedes won't win if they can't score. 

     

    Which superstar will flop?

    Roberto Luongo. After a great start to the season, 2010's gold-medal winning goalie has been shelled during the Vancouver Canucks' current seven-game losing streak. With his confidence at a low ebb, look for Carey Price to sweep in and seize the net for Team Canada.

     

    Which goaltender will be most impressive?

    Semyon Varlamov. His numbers have cooled off since his red-hot start to the season, but he's still winning games for the Colorado Avalanche. Russia stood behind their prospective No. 1 during his legal troubles earlier this season; he'll be expected to pay back that faith with the best performance of his life.

     

    Who will be the tournament MVP?

    Alex Ovechkin. No player has been more vocal about his enthusiasm for these games—an enthusiastic Ovechkin is a successful Ovechkin. On a Russian team loaded with offense and motivation, the Great 8 will put on a show for his nation. 

     

    The medal winners will be…

    Gold: Russia

    Silver: Canada

    Bronze: USA

Rob Vollman

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    What will be the must-watch game of the group stage? 

    The only matchup between likely gold medalists in the group stage is between USA and the host nation on February 15. The vaunted American defense will be tested against elite scoring lines that are without a doubt superior, while the question of Russia's defensive depth will be examined against a team with four strong scoring lines. 

     

    Which team will be the biggest surprise?

    While the general consensus is that there are only seven true medal contenders, a case is gradually being made for an eighth. Switzerland has solid goaltending, an NHL-caliber blue line and could be only a lucky break or a fluke upset away from the bronze-medal game.

     

    Which team will be the biggest disappointment?

    The Czech Republic made some truly curious roster decisions, including leaving an entire top-six scoring line at home, along with their best defensive blue liner, Jan Hejda. Throw in one of the NHL's least effective starting goalies in Ondrej Pavelec, and you have a recipe for a third seventh-place finish in the past four Olympic tournaments.

     

    Which superstar will flop? 

    Finland is felt to have the edge in goaltending, but Tuukka Rask's recent play calls that into question.

    In his last 13 starts he's been chased and/or allowed at least five goals five times, despite Boston's excellent defense. This nation has only failed to medal twice since 1984, and their success has often been thanks to mind-blowing goaltending by netminders like 2006 Olympic MVP Antero Niittymaki. Expectations are so high on Rask that it almost seems impossible to avoid coming up short.

     

    Which goaltender will be most impressive?

    Very few factors influence the outcome of a short series of games more than goaltending, and yet even fewer are so unpredictable. Obviously the goalies on the more inferior teams will have more opportunity to shine, like Slovakia's Jaroslav Halak or Switzerland's Jonas Hiller.

    That being said, a good rule of thumb is always to select the goalie in the tournament with the longest track record of elite play. That's Sweden's Henrik Lundqvist.

     

    Who will be the tournament MVP?

    In a tournament that pits the best against the best, there's only a single player that stands out by even a slim margin, and that's Canada's Sidney Crosby. He's a generational talent who is in his prime and playing for a monster team.

     

    The medal winners will be… 

    In a three-game, single-elimination tournament, practically any outcome is possible. Even a team that finds themselves a 2-1 underdog for all three games has at least an 18.5 percent chance of winning a medal. Likewise a 2-1 favorite has the same chance of skating home with nothing.

    That being said, the most likely outcome is probably Canada beating either USA or Sweden for the gold, while the other knocks off Russia for the bronze.

Jonathan Willis

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    What will be the must-watch game of the group stage?

    Feb. 15: United States vs. Russia.

    Each group has two of hockey's traditional powers, but only Group A's matchup between Russia and the United States sees two of international hockey's Big Four play each other. Add in that a legitimate Slovakian entry is in the group and there's a decent chance that the loser of this game has to play in the qualification round. 

     

    Which team will be the biggest surprise?

    Slovakia. The Slovaks have underrated goaltending in the person of Jaroslav Halak and game-breakers in Marian Hossa up front and in Zdeno Chara on the back end. It's a combination that should enable them to compete with the big guns. 

     

    Which team will be the biggest disappointment?

    United States. The odds are good that the disappointment will come from Group A, where Russia, the United States and Slovakia are all seeded. The Americans are the best bet simply because the adjustment to Sochi will be smaller for Team Russia.  

     

    Which superstar will flop?

    John Tavares. Trapped in a depth role on Team Canada behind Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Getzlaf, Tavares is going to be hard-pressed to distinguish himself offensively, and with Patrice Bergeron just behind him in the depth chart, that may mean reduced minutes. 

     

    Which goaltender will be most impressive?

    Tuukka Rask. Already one of, if not the, best goalies in the NHL, Rask will provide a solid final line of defense for a Finnish squad that lacks the brilliance of previous years. 

     

    Who will be the tournament MVP?

    Evgeni Malkin. Malkin's been a dominant force on international ice the last few seasons and is a good bet to deliver a tour de force for the Russians. 

     

    The medal winners will be…

    Gold: Canada

    Silver: Sweden

    Bronze: Russia

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