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Semifinals Preview: USA vs Finland, Canada vs Slovakia

February 26, 2010

Did you see this coming? No, neither did I. I liked Canada’s line-up from the start, and I thought Russia would struggle but still field a decent enough team that could get to the medal rounds, but then the US kicked Canada’s butt and the Russians found themselves on the (unfortunate) receiving end of Canada’s wrath.

Those aren’t the only upsets of the tournament so far, though. While Jonas Hiller couldn’t carry Switzerland through the quarterfinals, Kiprusoff snuck Finland past the Czech Republic and Hossa’s 3-point night helped lead Slovakia to victory over the Swedes. It’s a tough time to be a Swede. Though they have a strong lineup, their 3 consecutive wins had to take a backseat to USA’s showing and not only did their loss happen so late that no one anywhere other than the West Coast was still up for it, but world-class goaltender Henrik Lundqvist gave up the game-winning goal to Tomas “Slovakian for Whipping Boy” Kopecky.

Anyway. Onward. The Chicago Blackhawks sent 6 players to represent 3 countries, and all of those countries are still in the final four playing to medal. So here’s a look at the games coming up today, after the jump.

2:00 pm CST: USA vs Finland (NBC)

The Finnish weren’t supposed to finish (haha, get it? It’s like a pun!) above the Czechs, but on the strength of a goaltending clinic between Kiprusoff and Vokoun, and a little bit of luck, the Finnish now face the undefeated USA in the semifinals.

There isn’t a lot that can be said about the Finnish team so far, except that they’ve won when it mattered and they likely get by due to being overlooked by the opposing teams. They skate hard and bring plenty of energy to the game, and though they had five-goal explosions against Germany and Belarus, they were shut out by Sweden and only got one past Vokoun because a 5-on-4 power play effectively turned into a 5-on-3 opportunity when Kubina chased after his fallen helmet, bound by IIHF rules forbidding him to continue playing without one.

Against strong goaltending it certainly appears as though the Finns will have some trouble finding the back of the net, and let’s be honest here: USA’s Ryan Miller is as strong as they go. He’s held down the fort while the skaters in front of him tried to find ways to win, and today we’ll see whether or not the lines Ron Wilson put together will continue to click. Much has been said about the chances Patrick Kane has been generating for his team, for instance, but it’s time either his linemates are able to finish those chances, or he find a better way to work with them.

8:30 pm CST: Canada vs Slovakia (CNBC)

Did you know Marian Hossa is one point shy of tying the Slovakia/Czechoslovakia record for most points in the Olympics? For this tournament he is tied with Pavol Demitra for 7 points on the Slovakian roster, and is certainly one more Blackhawk I’d love to get back after the Olympics. I’ll even take Kopecky back too–I heard his play’s not been half as bad either.

I can’t explain why, but of the two underdog teams, it feels like maybe Slovakia is more likely to pull an upset. They beat Russia in a shootout, despite getting peppered with shots, and maybe that’s where they draw their strength–on the goaltending of Jaroslav Halak. What’s interesting about this is that I’m not sure exactly how familiar Canada’s snipers are with Halak–of the 20 skaters on Team Canada, only 5 play in the Eastern Conference, where they would have been more likely to match up with Halak as a Canadien. Those 5 players include Patrice Bergeron, by the way, who has been a non-factor so far and has earned the fewest minutes on the ice.

If there’s anything going for the Canadians, though, it’s that their lines are finally clicking, and it certainly looks like they’ve settled into their game well. Sure, they threw a lot at Ryan Miller last Sunday, with only 3 goals to show for it, but if they tighten up their defense more, which really, we haven’t seen them consistently do so far, they should be fine.

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