Great news Caps fans, our Olympians are all on the way home and save for a pinched nerve in Ovechkin's hand, all five are completely fit, healthy and likely equipped with more than a bit of surliness and motivation to end the NHL season - on their terms vice their opponents.
So I guess I'm rooting for a Gold Medal game of USA vs. Slovakia....
Well in reverse order from my previews and quarterfinal prognostications let's review in short order since I got so many of the "Wild Wednesday" game predictions so wrong.
Russia vs. Canada:
It was a "go big or go home game" - unfortunately for the Russians and for hockey fans outside of Canada, as well as some inside, apparently nobody explained to the Russians that phrase was meant to be taken literally AND to be applied from the second the puck dropped. The Russians seemed to come out thinking the first few minutes of this game would be a cautious, feeling out sort of thing for at least 5 if not 10 minutes. Unfortunately for them, Team Canada had markedly different ideas. Before the first period was half over Canada led 3-0, the home crowd was wildly behind their team and the Russians never mounted a serious come back. Frankly Evgeni Nabakov never saw the freight train that ran over him, but it was clear after the third Canadian goal his aggressive style of play was not only not going to cut it, it was going to be the Russian's undoing. Nabakakov should have been pulled in favor of Ilya Bryzgalov with the score 3-0 however it probably wouldn't have mattered and he wasn't pulled until the Canadians were up by five goals in the second period. There's tons of stuff all over the interwebs about this game, all of it negative about the Russians and in my opinion all but possibly one item well deserved. The one item I take exception to is the characterization of Dan Boyle's slew foot of Alexander Semin as deserved because his hit on Boyle was "dirty" or "dangerous" etc. I say this for two reasons, after considerable self-examination because I know I am a Semin fan: a) Watching the game and hit by Semin, it sure looks to me that Boyle is skating with his head down - something you learn not to do at about age 5 if you are a young Canadian boy destined for NHL fame. b) I'm from the school of "two wrongs don't make a right" thanks to 8 years of schooling by the Sisters of Perpetual Punishment and a mother whose stern German decent roots would come out and pound the phrase in my head at times like this. It is International Hockey so I won't argue Semin didn't deserve a penalty, under International rules there is no argument he did deserve one and he got one. I will argue that Boyle's retaliation i) cost his team a power play opportunity, and ii) was far more intentional and dangerous to Semin than Semin's hit on Boyle, it was clearly retaliatory and for that under the rules Boyle should have been tossed and he risked suspension from the tournament. In any case, I won't even go into how wrong I was on this one about the Canadians' defensive selections and this game. However, being me I'm still rooting that they don't medal and they see the error in their ways and their assessment of Mike Green's talent, suitability, and readiness to wear Team Canada's colors in the Olympics. I know it's a "hater" kind of thing and I should probably seek some counseling or whatever to get over it but hey, it's a free country so please leave me in "my own private Idaho" here for a while longer on this one.
USA vs. Switzerland:
Well folks Jonas Hiller and his mates made a solid run at an upset but fell just short. The USA had just too much for the Swiss and they made sure they didn't look past them. In addition in the goaltending department Ryan Miller did Hiller "one better" and that one was enough to ensure USA is into the medal round. To all those out there that point to the narrow margin of victory as a likely "chink" in Team USA's armour, I'd say four words - Sweden, Czech Republic, and Russia. What? you ask. In reply I point out that in the win or go home part of the tournament there are only winners and losers and the margin of victory is a meaningless thing to look at. The USA is the only team in the Quarter finals that won a game they should have won based on seeding coming out of the Prelims, they look just fine to me and they have no worries about being over confident at this point and abandoning their game plans.
Sweden vs. Slovakia:
Probably the best game of the four yesterday, too bad I fell asleep during the second period with the score tied 2-2. Also Caps fans take note, Milan Jurcina now of Columbus is having an excellent tourney and once again looked solid last night, at least during the first two periods. My shock on this game was the first two quick goals yielded by Henrik Lundqvist, especially Slovakia's second goal. Slovakia has now bested two of the four favorites in this tournament and have to be regarded as the real sleeper in the final four. Team Canada will have their hands full and will need to stay focused on the upcoming game with these guys before even beginning to talk about playing in the Gold Medal game. Caps fans can console themselves with the knowledge, center Nicklas Backstrom played well in the entire tournament, and I'd suspect he and a few other young guys on this team will carry the Tre Kroner torch in Sochi.
Finland vs. Czech Republic:
A classic goaltender's duel won by Mikka Kiprusoff over Tomas Vokoun. The surprise here is the Czech Republic's forwards couldn't solve either Kipper or the Finns defense. Ultimately it was the Czech's penalties that cost them the game in a "straw that broke the Camel's back" but the Finns defense and Kipper never yielded either. Team USA now has to gear up to face another hot goaltender in their first medal round game, the biggest threat to success in a win or go home format.
Today it's the women's medal round and both should be good games. It will be interesting to see the game plans and how the USA vs. Canada Gold Medal game are played and end up. No predictions from here on out, I'm a proud American so I know who I'm pulling for from here on out.
U-S-A ... U-S-A ... U-S-A