Oh baby, is there some great hockey left to be played in Sochi.
The semifinals are epic (even if the host Russians aren't around to join in the fun), as both games feature heated rivalries. Finland versus Sweden will start things off, while Canada and the United States will renew their rivalry after that.
Very little separates these four teams, so let's break down both matchups, along with a full schedule for the remaining games.
|Men's Olympic Hockey Schedule|
|When (All Times Eastern)||Round||Matchup||Watch|
|Friday, February 21 at 6:30 a.m.||Semifinals||Finland vs. Sweden||NBCSN; NBC Sports Live Extra|
|Friday, February 21 at 11:30 a.m.||Semifinals||United States vs. Canada||NBCSN; NBC Sports Live Extra|
|Saturday, February 22 at 10 a.m.||Bronze Medal Game||TBA||NBCSN; NBC Sports Live Extra|
|Sunday, February 23 at 7 a.m.||Gold Medal Game||TBA||NBC; NBC Sports Live Extra|
Finland vs. Sweden
Sweden will probably come into this game as the slight favorite, as the Swedes have yet to lose in these Olympics. But truly, it's hard to find a major difference between the two sides.
Both have been paced by excellent goalies (Henrik Lundqvist for Sweden, Tuukka Rask for Finland). Both have been without important players, lost to injury (Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin for Sweden, Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula, Saku Koivu and Aleksander Barkov for Finland). And neither team has found much issue scoring (15 goals for Sweden, 18 for Finland).
One thing the Finns have going for them? An us-against-the-world mentality, as forward Olli Jokinen told Larry Lage of the Associated Press (via ABC News):
Every time we go into tournaments like this we're disrespected," Finland forward said. "But the good thing for our country, no matter what names are on the back, Finland's going to play the same way no matter who we have here. We could have 20 different guys here and the results would be the same.
Finland's going to play Finland's way.
They certainly did that when they knocked the Russians out of this tournament, stifling the hosts with hustle, an organized defense and a little bit of grit thrown into the mix. Russia had more talent on the ice, no question, but the Finns outplayed them in nearly every facet of the game.
This Swedish team hasn't been tested in these Olympics like Finland has been, facing the Canadians and Russians, so it will be interesting to see how they handle their stiffest test yet. Look for the Finns to continue their strong run, winning this one, 2-1.
United States vs. Canada
A day after these countries faced off in the women's gold-medal game in hockey, the men will do battle in an incredibly anticipated showdown. Much like Finland and Sweden, these countries are rivals and absolutely loaded with talent.
The star power on the ice goes without question. Neither one of these teams has lost (though the Americans needed a shootout to get past the Russians in the preliminary round). There is recent history between these countries, as the Canadians beat the Americans in overtime in Vancouver in the gold-medal game.
Greg Beachem of the Associated Press (via ABC News) has more:
With 24 American and Canadian players returning from the Vancouver Olympics' decisive game, which famously ended with Sidney Crosby's overtime goal, there's no shortage of motivation. There's also a wealth of mutual respect between North America's hockey powers, who have both gone unbeaten through four games in Sochi.
"It's a team that you want to be able to beat to say that you played through the best," U.S. forward Patrick Kane said. "You've got to respect them, but at the same time, we have a chance to prove we're in the same sentence with Canada."
The U.S. hasn't won a men's hockey medal outside of North America since 1972, while Canada hasn't done it since 1994. Canada has won two of the last three Olympic golds, but the Americans are in an ideal position for that breakthrough win and a chance to win their first hockey gold medals since the Miracle on Ice in 1980.
There are contrasts as well as similarities, however. The United States leads this tournament with 20 goals scored; Canada has allowed just three. The Canadians are expected to win gold; for the United States, gold is the hope, but expectations are less demanding.
Still, it's hard to look past the talent Canada rolls out on the ice, with players like Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Shea Weber, among others, leading the way. This game is going to be incredibly tight once again—it'd be hardly surprising if these teams needed overtime to separate them again—but Canada is going to sneak away with the tightest of wins.
The defending gold medalists take this one, 3-2.
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