With the preliminary round complete, Olympic hockey has really begun to pick up. Sunday’s contests–Austria vs. Norway, Russia vs. Slovakia, Slovenia vs. United States, and Finland vs. Canada–finalized the tournament’s playoff bracket. The results of those games are as follows:
Austria 3, Norway 1
Russia 1, Slovakia 0
Slovenia 1, USA 5
Finland 1, Canada 2
So where does this leave us? Check out James Mirtle’s finalized bracket below.
A final version of the Olympic hockey bracket going into elimination round pic.twitter.com/HhKBRJnZmb
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) February 16, 2014
Sweden will face either Slovenia or Austria. Finland (who was narrowly edged in a shootout by Canada) will play Russia or Norway. Either the Czech Republic or Slovakia will take on the United States, and Canada will play the winner of the Switzerland–Latvia matchup.
This format prevents a repeat of the 2010 gold medal game, in which Canada trumped the United States in overtime. It’s probable that the two will meet in the semi-finals, given the Canada beats its next opponent, which will likely be Switzerland.
What the Swiss lack in offensive starpower they more than make up for in defense. Seeing as the Canadians have been shut down repeatedly in this tournament, an upset could be in the books.
Meanwhile, the Americans will be seeking to build off of their fantastic 5-1 win over Slovenia. Phil Kessel scored a natural hat trick–the first to do so since the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. The rest of the U.S. team, John Carlson included, has looked strong and should beat either the Czech Republic or Slovakia–a game that is quite the crapshoot.
The Swedes will no doubt triumph over Slovenia or Austria. However, given the injuries they’ve sustained, it’s difficult to tell if they can continue their dominance in the semi-finals, much less a medal round.
There remain two teams with a serious shot at medaling: Russia and Finland. Russia has struggled with inconsistency, despite the brevity of the tournament thus far. Fear not, Russia can and will beat Norway–but how close will that game be, and could it come at a cost? The pressure the Russian team faces to win gold on home soil, particularly after a disappointing outing in Vancouver, is immeasurable. A loss is unthinkable, which should serve as good motivation to beat Team Finland en route to what could be another gold medal for the former hockey dynasty.
The odds are quite good that we’ll see at least one Capital compete in the gold medal game. John Carlson, Alex Ovechkin, and Swedes Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson have been fierce competitors on their respective squads, each of which is a threat to the next. Choose your favorites, but bear in mind it is the Olympics. Anything could happen.