What a great Sunday this should be! We have three straight blockbuster games lined up. Russia-Czech Republic, USA-Canada, and Finland-Sweden.
Jaromir Jagr has been playing out of his mind, and proving on almost every shift that he left the NHL because he wanted to, not because he couldn’t play. He’s just as strong, and just as smart as always. He remains a threat to take over any game. However, Russia contains more than enough firepower to counteract that. But they’ll have to get through the left wing lock first. The Czechs used it to perfection in the ’98 gold medal game to neutralize Bure and Federov, amongst other stars. Not too shabby. The system was invented by the Swedes to combat the Soviets in the 70′s, but the Czechs have done an excellent job of adopting it. Obviously, the line-ups are different, but the systems remain the same. Russia has to be steaming mad after the Slovakia loss, and I don’t think they’ll be held to only one goal. If Russia wins in regulation, they win the group. An overtime/shootout win, or any loss, gives the Czechs the group. Furthermore, a loss completely eliminates Russia, and that’s a scary thought. These countries have had serious animosity since 1968, mostly from the Czech side, for obvious reasons. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prague_Spring#Invasion). These games are always intense, tight, and entertaining.
These teams are completely made up of NHL players, and features more matchups between teammates than any other game. In addition, an article from NHL.com says that Richards will be playing on Crosby’s line. I’m actually interested to see what Ritchie will look like when he plays on a line with someone that can feed him the puck. He’s never had anyone like that on the Flyers play with him before, and I hope Holmgren is paying close attention. More importantly, this game is a huge litmus test for both squads. Is Canada really a favorite, or is USA highly underrated? So far, my answers would be no and no. I do think the Americans have more than just a chance to win though. As I wrote in my last post, Canada does not look hungry. Sure they’ve won, but they didn’t look like a team of world class players. Meanwhile, USA is winning with grit, and mixing that with excellent goaltending is always a recipe for success. The only reason I feel they’re not underrated is because so far, this is exactly what I expected of them. I still think Sweden, Finland, Canada, and Russia are better.
The last game of the days is probably between the biggest rivals. Only a Canada-Russia match-up would surpass this. This is a rematch of the last gold medal game, and promises to be intense. These countries share a border and get along just fine. When it comes to sports, they hate each other. The countries have an extensive and historic rivalry in many different events. Both teams have superstars, incredible goalies, depth, and defense. Whoever wins this game, gets the group and a bye. Hockey lives because if rivalries like this, and with both teams playing at a high level, this has the makings of a great game. Here’s a preview article that was written prior to the ’06 gold medal game that does a nice job of describing the rivalry: http://www.cbc.ca/olympics/story/2006/02/25/sweden-finland060225.html.
The only result that matters is a Russia win. This ensures that every team playing today still has an opportunity to get the gold. With all due respect to Slovakia, they’re not the team that most hockey fans want to see. The other two games are still important for determining seedings and byes, but at least they’re all ensured an opportunity to advanced. No matter what, we’re in for some good hockey.
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