The 2014 Winter Olympic games are winding down. On Wed, Feb 19, 2014, Sweden, Finland, Team USA, and Team Canada all earned victories in Men's Olympic Ice hockey and all advanced to the Medal round.
Medal round play will begin on Friday, Feb 21.
That said, there is no reason for disappointment; the Friday semifinal round will be nothing short of magnificent.
In ice hockey, there are no bigger rivals in international play than Sweden/Finland. Canada/USA is a much more high profile rivalry, but it doesn't truly compare to Sweden/Finland .
We will get a chance to see the biggest rivals in the game faceoff against one another on what could very well turn out to be the most memorable day in Olympic ice hockey history, Gold medal games aside.
First, a little bit of history. The last two Olympic Gold medals were captured by Sweden and Canada, in 2006 and 2010, respectively.
2006 - Sweden won Gold by beating Finland, 3-2 in overtime.
2010 - Canada won Gold by beating Team USA, by the same 3-2 score, also in overtime.
Those games are still fresh in the memories of all four countries.
The stage is set -
The 2006 Sweden vs Finland Gold medal game was a cruel twist of fate for the Finns. Having battled into overtime, it all ended in an instant. Finnish center Saku Koivu snapped his stick in half while taking the opening faceoff at center ice. As a result, Swedish center Mats Sundin won the draw cleanly, and Sweden wound up on an outnumbered attack. Nicklas Lidstrom's slapshot quickly ended the game less than 10 secs after the OT began. It was a sweet victory for Sweden, but a bitter defeat for Finland. Oh, the fickle finger of fate. Perhaps the Finns will have their revenge this year. Finland has played excellent hockey, and Sweden has done a much better job of possessing the puck, than scoring. Finland also holds a slight edge in overall team speed. In goal, Tuuka Rask for Finland, and Henrik "King Henry" Lundqvist for Sweden. In that area, the edge would have to go to Sweden, but can Lundqvist hold the Finns to 2 goals or less ?
Prediction: Though they may have the most talented blueline in the tournament, the scoring punch which would have been provided by absent forwards, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and Henrik Sedin, will finally catch up to the Swedes. Finland looked awfully poised when they dispatched Russia in the quarterfinal. Finnish captain Teemu Selanne, will be the happiest 40-something dude on the planet. Finland wins.
The 2010 Team Canada vs Team USA was really a case of a somewhat overmatched American team, riding grit, determination, and strong goaltending from Ryan Miller. It all broke down when Sidney Crosby scored in overtime. Such is not necessarily the case this time around. Yes, Team Canada does again have more roster talent, but they have not looked at all dominant in these 2014 games. The canadian squad needed to get bailed out by questionable officiating, in order to get by Latvia in the quarterfinal round. Add to this, rumors of an injury to forward John Tavares, coupled with an American squad which has been focused from the start of the games, and steadily improving with each game, and it looks like Team USA will be heading to another Gold Medal game. Even the most loyal fans of Team Canada, are only cautiously Optimistic about their team's chances. Another equalizer ? How about the goaltending matchup; Jonathan Quick vs Carey Price.
Prediction: Team USA has been on a mission since blowing out Slovakia 7-1 to begin the tournament. They were a bit tentative against Russia, but crushed the Czech Republic win it really mattered most. Team Canada has loads of potential, but there is no reason to think they will suddenly find a rhythm which has been MIA since these games began. It's redemption time for Team USA. It is so refreshing to see Jonathan Quick smile and get excited. There will be about a three minute window after the game, where Quick will enjoy the moment, prior to focusing on the upcoming Gold medal game. Team USA wins.
There you have it. Four rival teams; two great games.
It doesn't get any better than this. Enjoy the drama.
Gametimes for Fri semifinal round -
Sweden vs Finland - 7:00 am ET
Team USA vs Team Canada - Noon ET
*Both games will air on NBCSN