The tournament that is arguably the most exciting in all of hockey is beginning to wind down. In a few days we will no longer be obligated to cheer for Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown, and we can welcome Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry back to our side with open arms. But for now, let's take a look at the last four teams standing in the Olympics before they go to war in what will no doubt make for some extremely exciting tilts.
How They Got Here
Defeated Czech Republic 4-2
Defeated Switzerland 1-0
Defeated Latvia 5-3
Defeated Slovenia 5-0
Aside from the 5-0 thumping of Slovenia in the quarterfinals, Sweden hasn't been overly dominant against their competition. Points-wise, the Swedes are led by Erik Karlsson, the second leading scorer in the tournament to this point with 3 goals and 4 assists in 4 games. King Henrik Lundqvist has stayed true to form so far in Russia, posting a 1.25 GAA and .949 save percentage entering the medal round. With a supporting cast featuring Daniel Sedin (1 goal, 3 assists) and Daniel Alfredsson (2 goals, 2 assists) that have also been consistently contributing from top to bottom, Sweden has lived up to their billing as one of the most well-rounded powerhouses in this competition, and they look to reinforce it even more in the upcoming games.
#2 UNITED STATES
How They Got Here
Defeated Slovakia 7-1
Defeated Russia 3-2 (SO)
Defeated Slovenia 5-1
Defeated Czech Republic 5-2
Well, this has been a fun team to watch, hasn't it? Team USA has absolutely running a train on their opposition that's not named Russia (TJ Oshie did that one virtually by himself), and they show no signs of slowing down any time soon. Phil "The Thrill" Kessel is currently the leading scorer in the Olympics, having put up 5 goals (including a hat trick against Slovenia) and 3 helpers. His sister Amanda is also putting up the best numbers on the women's team (3 goals, 3 assists). (Ben's side note: they're both University of Minnesota products. No big deal.)The US is currently lighting the lamp an average of 5 times a night, which means a lot of guys are scoring other than Kessel. There are currently 11 different Americans who have gotten a goal so far, including our very own Cam Fowler.
Defensively, the Americans have been anchored by Jonathan Quick, who has turned aside 94% of the shots he's seen in the tournament. Ryan Miller is also ready to go if need be. His playing time in Sochi is limited to the Slovenia game where he only surrendered 1 goal on 18 shots. Miller very well could have been perfect, but Doc decided to be stupid and committed the cardinal sin of prematurely saying the 'S' word with 45 seconds left in the game. Overall, the Americans have been exceeding expectations, and we look for them to continue doing so in these next couple games.
How They Got Here
Defeated Norway 3-1
Defeated Austria 6-0
Defeated Finland 2-1 (OT)
Defeated Latvia 2-1
The Canadians took full advantage of their relatively easy schedule to claim a spot in the Olympic semifinals. Even though they haven't played any teams known for their offense, Canada's effort on defense (or defence, whatever floats your boat) has been anything but laid back. However, even though the Canadians have been keeping their opposition off the scoresheet, the fact that they've been having trouble doing the same should be a little concerning to their fans. The most notable of these snakebitten players is Canadian captain Sidney Crosby, thus far in the Olympics having earned no goals, 2 assists, and a lecture by Selanne.
A 2-1 victory against Latvia (0-3 in group play) is one game that strongly enforces this, but perhaps not for the right reasons. The final score makes Canada look a lot worse than they actually were. If it wasn't for the 55 save effort from 21 year old Kristers Gudlevskis, the Canadians would have run away with this one before the game reached its halfway point. In fact, opposing goalies see an average of 42 shots per game. Either Canada needs to switch out quantity for quality with their shot count and create better scoring chances, or the scarier alternative, there's a ketchup bottle that's ready to blow its top pretty soon.
How They Got Here
Defeated Austria 8-4
Defeated Norway 6-1
Lost to Canada 2-1 (OT)
Defeated Russia 3-1
At the tender age of 43, Anaheim's sweetheart/King of Finland Teemu Selanne has been paramount in their run to the semis. The Suomi captain has 4 points in as many games, and despite the fact that his team is the only one remaining that's suffered a loss, his rag-tag group of underdogs still finds themselves in the thick of the hunt for an Olympic medal. The other Duck on the roster, Sami Vatanen, is tied for the tournament lead in assists, tallying 4 helpers so far.
Aside from the Flash and the Vatman, Finland's biggest strength has always been the fact that it's one of the best countries when it comes to producing elite-level goalies, and this year is no exception. Tuukka Rask has been seeing most of the action, and after a rough start to the tourney against Austria, he has been stellar in games against Canada and Russia, recording a .954 save percentage in those two games combined. His backup, Kari Lehtonen, has only played against Norway so far, but was almost perfect, turning aside 20 of 21 shots in a 6-1 rout. The Finns' third-stringer, should they need him? Antti Niemi. Not a bad trio if I've ever seen one.
#1 Sweden vs. #4 Finland
This should be a fantastic goalie battle here between Lundqvist and Rask. Both netminders have been playing great over the last few games, so this game could very well be on the lower end of the scoring spectrum. However, as much as I love watching Selanne lead Finland through this tourney in his last rodeo, I think the roster that includes 11 non-NHL players won't be able to keep up with the much more experienced Swedish team. The Swedes move on to play for gold at the expense of their neighbors to the east. Sweden 2, Finland 1
#2 United States vs. #3 Canada
Every hockey fan in North America has been waiting 4 years for this rematch, and we got it. The Americans come into this game firing on all cylinders offensively. Canada, on the other hand, hasn't looked as dominant, but their defense has been stout, not yet yielding more than one goal in any of their prior contests. While not originally anticipated, this game has started to take the shape of the classic offense vs. defense matchup, which is always fun to watch, especially with a rivalry as fierce as this one.
Even though it's a pretty tall order, I'm expecting this game to be more exciting than the Russia game was.With Team USA building up their full head of steam for the last week, Canada couldn't have picked a worse time to run into the one team who's been wanting to kick their teeth in for the last four years. I know I picked Canada to take gold again in my prediction at the beginning of the tournament, but I just love the way the Americans are playing too much to stand by that at this point. Down by 1 late in the 3rd, Mike Babcock pulls Carey Price, allowing Canada to make a ferocious push that rises the continent's collective heart rate, but an empty net goal ends their gold medal hopes and gives Americans a long-awaited sense of absolution. United States 4, Canada 2
BRONZE MEDAL GAME:
#3 Canada vs. #4 Finland
I may have gone against my original assumption that Canada would repeat, but I haven't gotten down on them enough to send them home without a medal. I feel bad that I'm sending Teemu home empty handed, but hopefully it'll give him that much more motivation to finish his career on a high note in Anaheim. Canada's goal scorers finally get their collective motor running and overwhelm the Finns. Canada 5, Finland 1
GOLD MEDAL GAME:
#1 Sweden vs. #2 United States
This one's pretty difficult for me to make a choice between, since both teams have been playing effective 'foot on the gas' hockey. Both offenses are deep and dangerous, both defenses are solid, and Lundqvist and Quick are both playing great between the pipes. The Americans have had a fantastic run, especially considering the fact that a lot of people didn't think they'd medal. However, as much as I hate to say it, I think the buck stops here. Kessel gets one more goal for the road and Sweden takes home the gold in a tightly contested battle. Sweden 4, United States 3
Some AC Staff Predictions:
Kyle: Sweden defeats Finland 4-2
Sweden's depth and efficiency in puck movement prevails over a Finnish side that has performed shockingly well.
Canada defeats USA 4-2
Everything points to the US looking like the better team coming in, but the Canadian offense is a ticking time bomb, and the US hasn't looked completely solid on the back end yet. Plus there's the rivalry factor. I expect an explosion from Canada.
Sweden defeats Canada 3-1 for gold
Just as Canada will look great against the US, they'll look bad in the gold medal game, and Sweden will punish them. Lundqvist will make 30+ saves.
USA defeats Finland 5-1 for bronze
The US rebounds from losing to Canada for the second straight year to wipe the ice with Finland and at least claim a medal of some color.
Lois: Finland defeats Sweden
Maybe it's because it's Teemu Selanne's last Olympics and final year, or maybe it's the balance of spectacular goaltending and surprising offense--but you have to admit, there's something special about Suomi. Despite lacking the centers, Finland has found a way to continue playing the "Finnish way" and finding the back of the net. It isn't just Teemu or Rask though...but the younger players like Mikael Granlund and Vatanen have proven themselves against the elite of opposing nations. Team Finland...is just that--a team. They mesh and bring out every players' strengths while covering each others' weaknesses. Even Teemu has found his golden touch back in the Suomi jersey. Sure, Sweden is stacked with NHL players, but Finland is known as the "pesky Finns" for a reason. I'm going to say Teemu will be playing for the gold.
USA defeats Canada
USA's quick transition and speedy entry through the neutral zone will have Canada reeling on their heels. Quick will outperform Price and come out of Sochi with the title as the best goaltender in the NHL. I think that Canada's cake walk will come back and bite them on the a$$ against a highly offensive team like USA. And dare I say, NHL posterchild Crosby will remain goal-less.
USA defeats Finland for gold
Coming out of an emotional victory over Canada will allow USA to have the extra spurt of magic needed to finally regain the gold medal title. Most doubted that they would even medal in this Olympics, but USA will prove that more than star individuals, team play wins championships. It's going to be amazing. Twitter will explode with patriotism. Canada will blame Crosby. Red, White and Blue flags will be waving all over. Media will jump at comparing this win to the 'Miracle on Ice' win (which is a bit absurd, but what the hell, let them have their triumph). And there will definitely be another Cam America video released in honor of his hardware... undoubtedly along with a cameo of the Finnish Flash and his silver of course.
Canada defeats Sweden for bronze
This match up is a difficult one to predict, but I'll say that the devastated, goldless Canada will come back and find a way through the Swedish defense to put pucks past Henrik Lundqvist. Unfortunately, the goal-scoring will be a little too late seeing as it will be a bronze medal for which the Canadians will be playing. Crosby will finally score.
Derek: Finland defeats Sweden 2-1
Canada defeats USA 4-2
Finland defeats Canada 3-2 (OT) for gold
USA defeats Sweden 6-4 for bronze
Kristen: Finland defeats Sweden
Canada defeats US
Canada defeats Finland for gold
US defeats Sweden for bronze
Team Canada will defend its gold medal. However, Team USA is incredibly resilient, and will rally from a semifinal loss to capture the bronze against Sweden.
Chris: Finland's magic dries up against Sweden in a 2-1 loss.
Watching Canada throw everything and the kitchen sink at Latvia has almost made me question my pre-tournament pick for Gold. However, I don't think the US will be able to shut them down as thoroughly as Latvia did, since the Americans will split their focus with more than just counter attacks and will get caught up ice giving the Canadian forwards more time and space. So it all comes down to Jonathan Quick. 4-3 Canada.
I'll stick with my medal picks, Canada over Sweden for gold and US sending Teemu home medal-less. The good news is, no matter what the Ducks will come home with all three colors of medal.
Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. It's about to be a fun ride.