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February 26, 2010

US v. Finland Mens Olympic Semifinal

Game update: Finland's coach says he sorry he started this guy in net today...

sieve.jpg

It was an interesting experiment but it didn't pan out.

Kudos to "garrett" in the comments for the scouting report on Miikka Kiprusoff.

Original Post:
Before getting to today's game just let me say I may, just may, have to reconsider my absolute loathing of womens 'hockey'. After the Canadian women beat the US in the gold medal games, the canuks hung around on the ice drinking beer and smoking cigars. The IOC is miffed but I'm...kind of aroused.

usa(navy).jpg



On to today's mens game (3pm Eastern on NBC). The US is playing for a medal, today determines if it's the gold or bronze game. I honestly did not expect that coming in to this tournament. Sunday's win over Canada got them into what is no doubt the weaker half of the draw and with their win over Switzerland they took full advantage of what they earned.

As for the Finns, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has been outstanding behind what has at times been a lackadaisical team (see their loss on Sunday to now eliminated Sweden with the number one seed was on the line).

Finland has NHL talent up front with Ollie Joakanen and the Koivu and Tuutu brothers. They also get Joni Pittkanen back on the blue line. Pitkanen missed the game with the Czech Republic due to a suspension for hitting Sweden's Patric Hornqvist in the head (with an elbow iirc). There's no doubt the Finns have the talent to play with the US and Kiprusoff is more than capable of stealing the game for them.

All that said, I like the US in this game. If they continue to use their size and strength to generate offensive chances, mind their defensive obligations and Ryan Miller stays insanely good in goal, the US believe it or not will be playing for gold on Sunday.

As for those of you on the West Coast, sorry but the game is going to be discussed and not just here but on just about every news and sport site or program. It can't be avoided, so you just need to try and avoid this thread and curse NBC (or try watching it here).

Below the fold...tmi3rd, who actually knows something about hockey breaks it down for you.


So here we go, coming off of the quarters... Slovakia had more speed than an aging, tired Team Sweden... the Finns won a staredown contest with the Czechs, where one tipped pass made all the difference... the US threw everything in the world at Switzerland, and finally broke through... and Canada came out of the chute and overwhelmed Russia.

What's it all mean? Well, first of all, for the US, they demonstrated once again that they can win pretty or they can win ugly. The US owned the first period against the Swiss. They began to break down a bit in the second, and then finally broke through in the third. That's good, because Finland will be more than game to play that kind of game. The Finns only really got into trouble against Sweden, and other than that have been defensively amazing. They've given up four goals total- one to Belarus and three to Sweden. It's not like the Czechs lacked offensive firepower.

The US is going to have to be extremely physical (which is, fortunately, exactly how they've been playing), but continue to improve defensively. The up-tempo style the US plays should work reasonably well against Finland, who are somewhat of a dark horse in these Olympics... some of their guys are up in age, but have plenty of experience. This game will likely be a test of conditioning, and Finland will likely try to do what the Swiss did- that is, clear out the middle. Look for Finnish D Kimmo Timonen to be a big key to this game.

It goes without saying that Ryan Miller will have to be the first star of the game for the US... Mikka Kiprusoff has been nothing short of miraculous (as he can be for Calgary) and the Finns will be scrappy offensively. I would be surprised greatly to see this game be terribly high scoring.

USA-Finland will be on the NBC mother ship at 3 PM Eastern.

On the other side, Slovakia got past Sweden with superior team speed. Sweden was consistently scoring three goals a game, but an aging Swedish defense just couldn't quite contain Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra in particular. Jaroslav Halak has been very solid in net, and the Slovakian defense have some serious size on defense.

They will face Canada at 9:30 Eastern. Presumably, it'll be on one of the NBC cable networks.

Canada came out of the gate with their hair on fire, and quite cheerfully ran the Russians out of the barn in the first period. The game plan clearly indicated that they would hit Alexander Ovechkin back first, and the Russians came out flatter than a board. They were unprepared for the Canadian intensity (difficult to understand) and Evgeni Nabokov picked this game to utterly disintegrate. Three or four goals were completely stoppable by Nabokov, and the majority of Canadian goals came off of face-palmingly bad errors by the Russian defense.

It was said before the tournament that the Russian Achilles' heel would be their blueline, and this was borne out against Canada. It is also worth noting that their first line didn't backcheck for anything... the Russians didn't make a goaltending change until being down 6-1. With 9:58 gone in the second period, the score was 7-2.

Roberto Luongo had a few very nice saves, and did not make the kind of puckhandling mistakes that Martin Brodeur made against the US. He was beaten twice over the glove- surprising from a butterfly goaltender, and particularly on Maxim Afinogenov's goal in the second period. Long-distance shots through traffic beat Luongo in this game- worth noting for the future.

Can Slovakia beat Canada? It's unlikely but totally possible. Certainly, if Canada comes out with the same level of desperate intensity that they did against Russia, they're the best in the world. But don't lose sight of the fact that Slovakia's got huge defensemen who can clear traffic out, a goaltender who can steal the game for you, and a whole lot of scoring punch and speed. The Slovaks will need to make Canadian forwards pay a price every time they cross the blue line, and punish the Canadian defense (who have shown vulnerability) every time they touch the puck. And, of course, Halak will have to steal the game for the Slovaks.

For Canada, they're going to have to blunt the speedy Slovak attack at the blue line. Slovakia can score off the rush, or set Marian Gaborik up to snipe away. Their defense was much more part of the rush against Russia, and that worked well for them. It would be a disaster for Canada, however, if the defensemen pinch and aren't properly covered on the backline... the Slovak speed would be fatal.

The only prediction you'll get out of me is a Canadian win over Slovakia... the US game is too scary to predict.

I'll just if Canada plays anything like they did against Russia, everyone is playing for 2nd place. Thing is, it's really hard to play at that level 3 straight games. The pressure is going to be getting exponentially greater and as we've seen, that causes problems for the Canadians. But that game on Wednesday? No one could have kept up with them.

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posted by DrewM. at 02:54 PM

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