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Look! It’s a Semifinals Recap & Bronze Medal Game Preview rolled into one!

February 27, 2010

Sometimes you get upsets, and sometimes you get what’s expected. Sort of.

In any case, USA and Canada will indeed be getting the much-touted gold medal game match-up, and Finland and Slovakia will be facing off for 3rd place. Nearly everyone saw it coming, so that’s no real surprise, but what they couldn’t predict was how it would all go down.

USA 6, Finland 1

There are a couple of ways to explain this:

  1. USA saw what Canada did to Russia and raised them a 6-goal first period in anticipation of meeting them for the gold medal.
  2. Kane took exception to getting called out by just about every blog and media outlet and is proving critics wrong (again).
  3. Kiprusoff thought he was competing against Nabokov for the gold medal in choking.

The US came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, scoring 4 goals (2 power play goals by Parise and Johnson, and 2 unassisted goals by Malone, who opened the scoring, and Kane) on 7 shots in the first 10 minutes of the first period, after which Kiprusoff saved his coach the difficult decision and pulled himself out of the game. Backstrom came in relief of Kiprusoff, but the scoring didn’t end there. Kane and Stastny would score 2 more within 15 seconds of each other.

The game tightened up considerably afterward, with the Finns finding their legs and remembering there was a game to be played, but by then it was too little, too late. Antti Miettinen scored a power play goal late in the 3rd period–on Thomas, who had relieved Miller when the lead was fairly secured–but only the shutout was ruined. The Finns were, ahem, finnished.

The USA, meanwhile, has been playing as though it had everything to prove, and they are shaping up to be the favorites for Sunday’s match.

Canada 3, Slovakia 2

Canada opened the scoring with 2 goals, and it looked as though the evening game would be a repeat of the afternoon game. The Slovakians had gone on record the day after their win over Sweden to say that they were still savoring their victory while Canada had moved on from Russia to focus on the upcoming match, and from the moment the puck dropped the difference in those two attitudes showed. Far from the blowout that the Finns allowed, however, Slovakia stayed mostly on its heels for the first ten minutes, Halak withstanding most of the onslaught until Marleau redirected a Shea Weber wrister, with Morrow following it up with another redirect a few minutes later.

Slovakia, like Finland, found their footing in the 2nd period, keeping a close game until Ryan Getzlaf broke through in its waning minutes, scoring a power play goal made possible by a Brendan Morrow screen.

But Halak stood tall otherwise, and more than halfway into the 3rd period, just when nearly everyone had written the game off as done, Visnovsky got one past Roberto Luongo, cutting the deficit down to 2. And then, with a little under 5 minutes left to go, Handzus cut the lead to a manageable, doable 1, and all of a sudden it seemed as though the Slovaks were everywhere. Canada was able to hold them off, but only barely–Pavol Demitra was staring at a wide open net in the final minutes of the game but he just couldn’t get the puck through for what would have been a game-tying goal, and when the game was finally over, the Canadians found themselves surviving what could very well have been a heartbreaker.

Bronze Medal Game: Finland vs Slovakia

Look, I won’t lie. I really want Slovakia to win so all of the Blackhawks could medal, but beyond that, even without the team affiliation, I do think that of the two teams, Slovakia has played well enough to earn themselves a medal. They defeated the Russians, the Swedes, and almost dragged the Canadians to overtime. Halak has certainly played like an Olympian, and though Gaborik didn’t play during the 3rd period of tonight’s game and his injury status is unknown, it was during the 3rd that his teammates showed they could skate with Canada. They may face the Finns without one of their star forwards, but that shouldn’t be too big of a problem for them to overcome. Their special teams are still strong as well, and could give them the edge over the Finns.

Finland, meanwhile, faces questions in netminding. Finland coach Jukka Jalonen, when asked if Kiprusoff would start tomorrow, said “He will play.” I’m guessing this means Kipper will start, but I honestly don’t see why he should. Though Backstrom let in 2 goals against the Americans, he was able to settle down and anchor his team for the rest of the game. It doesn’t make sense to reward that performance by benching him.

The question becomes, I guess, how do both teams react to their losses tonight? Both needed some time to regain game form after their wins in the quarterfinals, but the Slovaks seemed to battle harder throughout the game and through to the end, whereas it looked as though the Finns simply gave up.

If there’s anything we’ve learned about Olympic hockey these last few days, however, it is to expect the unexpected. So don’t write anyone off just yet.

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