Friday, February 19, 2010

Thursday, February 18 in Olympic mens' hockey

Team USA looked great against Norway, but Norway isn't that good this time around.  Still, a win is a win, and if you're going to succeed in this tournament you have to win the games you know you can win.  We'll call this game a confidence builder for Team USA and hope that it helps them to bigger wins in the medal round, or better play against Canada on Sunday.  More on that below.

Canada and Switzerland went to a shootout to settle their game Thursday night.  I was at rehearsal and then at the bar so I didn't get to see any of the game until I got home, but the Swiss put up a fight against a superior-on-paper Canadian team.  It took a  sudden-death shootout goal from Sidney Crosby and a monster save from Martin Brodeur to seal the victory for Canada.  I still like Canada's chances at the gold, but a game like this one shows that there are no guarantees.

For more evidence that there are no guarantees in this tournament, look no further than last night's late game, Slovakia vs. Russia.  Slovakia had to play 24 hours after losing to the Czech Republic and faced a dominating Russian squad coming off a lopsided win over Latvia two days ago.  I switched over to CNBC-HD for the start of the game only to find that the channel was horribly pixelated.  It was nearly impossible for me to tell what was going on for much of the game.  Russia took a 1-0 lead in the 2nd period on a goal from Alexei Morozov and survived a 2-man advantage power play by Slovakia to start the 3rd.  But Slovakia stayed with the Russians and despite the terrible picture I didn't see the kind of passing and puck-handling from Russia that I saw on Tuesday.  Late in the 3rd period Marian Hossa put a shot past goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to even the game at 1-1.  A five-minute overtime period settled nothing, so for the second time in a day the fans got to see a shootout.  Alex Ovechkin went 1-for-3 as the shootout went into sudden death and it took a sweet, patient goal from Slovakia's Pavol Demitra to win the game.

Slovakia surprised Team Russia, and Canada survived a scare against Switzerland.  On today's show, On The DL Podcast's Dan Levy wondered if the teams with fewer NHL players have had more time to practice and get to know each other.  The loaded NHL all-star squads from the USA, Canada, and Russia have played well but they've only had a few days working as a team, since the NHL had games scheduled through last Sunday.  I agree with Dan: the big teams are going to play better as the tournament goes on, but the performances by Slovakia and Switzerland show that the medal round seedings aren't set in stone.

One correction: I didn't know until last night that all 12 teams in the tournament will make the medal round.  However, the top four teams from the round-robin receive byes into the quarterfinals and have one less game to play.  The other eight teams have to play elimination games to make the quarterfinals.  With a scant two weeks to play all the games, having that bye could be crucial to getting through to the gold-medal game.  Given the stakes and the goal differential right now, Sunday's USA (+7)-Canada(+9) game looms even larger than it did before the Olympics started.  Time Warner Brooklyn had better fix CNBC-HD before Sunday or there will be angry tweets coming from my apartment.

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