All four San Jose Sharks are still alive in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics after games Wednesday, February 20. The three teams they are a part of play their semifinal games Friday and one or two of them will play for the gold medal Sunday.
Four of the pictured predictions pertain specifically to the Sharks in the Sochi Olympics. Examining the games themselves is more in-depth and provides a foundation for any predictions.
Before moving forward, it helps to look back for perspective. When considering individual potential, it is important to note that no San Jose player can carry momentum from Wednesday: Antti Niemi did not play at all, Joe Pavelski had an assist but no shots and Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic each had over three shots on goal while neither team scored with them on the ice.
In the early games, rivals Team Sweden and Team Finland ensured they would face each other in the semifinals after dispatching of Team Slovenia 5-0 and Team Russia 3-1, respectively. Then Team USA skated by the tired, old Team Czech Republic while Team Canada survived Team Latvia in the "late" (9:00 a.m. PST) games.
Finland has faced its rival nine times in Olympic history, with Sweden going 4-2-3. The winner locks up at least a silver medal and plays for gold; the loser has to win the next day to even earn a bronze medal.
The last matchup came in the final of the 2006 Turino Winter Olympics. Team Sweden won then, and this is the last chance for 43-year old Teemu Selanne to capture the elusive Olympic gold medal. With even one win in the next two games, Niemi brings one of Team Finland's sixth consecutive Olympic medal in men's hockey back to San Jose.
As detailed here Tuesday, the time is right and the Swedes are ripe for the picking. They played a very soft schedule so far in the Sochi Olympics, with their quarterfinal against a team that has never been to the winter games. More importantly, they are without Henrik Zetterberg to level the ice in a personnel comparison.
Meanwhile, the Finns eliminated the (once again) over-hyped Team Russia on its own ice and took gold-medal favorite Team Canada to overtime. They will be the "road" team and suffer in the circle and on line matchups, but having Selanne to rally around can make up for that.
The Canadians have that with Martin St. Louis. They have not looked very good so far, but have been carried by their alleged Achilles heel—other than a shaky first few minutes of the tournament, the goaltending has been excellent. The blue line has been excellent.
The forwards are due. Look for them to rally around St. Louis—a late addition to the roster to replace his Tampa Bay Lightning teammate.
That does not mean Canada will win. The U.S.A is the most impressive team in the Sochi Olympics just as in Vancouver. A fast and defensively-responsible squad with excellent depth and goaltending has been able to make up for perhaps the least scoring ability on paper of the five major medal contenders.
So far, the Americans are averaging five goals a game. True that includes one empty-net goal and one credited for the shootout, but this is still the highest-scoring team in the tournament. They are also the home team, affording them Dan Bylsma's master line matching and strengthening an already notable faceoff prowess.
That is more things for the Canadians to worry about than the pressure that comes with being expected to win it all. Moreover, their goaltending is just as bound to let them down as their scoring forwards are to ignite: 4-3 Americans.