The Knockout Rounds of the Men's Olympic Tournament begin today with the 4 2nd Round Games where the winners will advance to play the Quarterfinal Teams as Team U.S.A., Sweden, Russia and Finland earned 2nd Round Byes by winning the Groups and having the best 2nd Place Team.
The Quarterfinals are tomorrow, the Semifinals are on Friday. And then the Medals will be awarded out on the Final Weekend of the Olympics, as the Bronze Medal Game will be on Saturday, then the Gold Medal Game will be one of the final big events of the Winter Olympics before the Closing Ceremonies on Sunday Night.
#8 Switzerland VS. #9 Belarus, 12:00 PM @ Hockey Canada Place
The Swiss have been a very tricky opponent in these games giving the U.S.A. all it can muster in the tournament opener and forcing Canada in a SO before beating Norway back on Saturday.
For the Swiss, Anahiem Ducks Goalie Jonas Hiller have given teams all it can handle while trying to help a team that is mostly European Based, espeically from the Swiss NLA which has been one of the biggest improving leagues in Europe over the last decade.
Just one player has scored mulitplie goals and thats Roman Wick who has 4 points (2G 2A) during the Group Stage where he scored at least 1 point all 3 games and where he will need to be a spart in the Swiss Offense to help them advance to the Quarterfinals.
Among the defensemen for the Swiss are players like Mart Streit and Luca Sbisa who's one of the youngest players in this tournament at 20 years old has provided to be a spark on the physicality aspect of the game and could bully the small Belarus forwards around.
Belarus like Switzerland came back from a bad start against Sweden and Finland. However, the offense of Belarus has been more steady. For Belarus, look for Dynamo Minsk forward Dmitri Meleshko who has been easily the best player for Belarus where he has been giving opposing teams defenses headaches as he scored both goals in their game against Sweden and has been one of the top scores in the tournament with Sergei Kostitsyn who's leading the team with 5 points (2G 3A).
Their team defense has been questioned at times, but if you look at the results. They have been getting better, starting out with a 5-1 loss to Finland, then a 4-2 loss where they made it very tricky for Sweden as they were down 3-2 at one point with just 8 minutes left in the game. Sweden didn't secure the game till the final 10 seconds when Daniel Alfredsson scored an empty netter to win the game 4-2.
Then you have the Germany game where the defense could come into question where Belarus was up 3-1 midway through the game, but the Germans were given hope as Marcel Goc and John Tripp scored goals just under a minute apart to tie the game at 3-3. Then in the final 6 minutes, Aleksei Kalyuzhny and Ruslan Salei scored to win 5-3 for Belarus. Expect this game to be one of the more exicting 2nd Round Matchups and look to give the Americans fits in the Quarterfinals.
Bottom Line: These teams are probably the best of the non powerhouses in this tournament. But with the experience in goal and a stronger team defense. I think the Swiss Experience will help in this game where the Swiss will advance to set up a rematch with the U.S.A. in the Quarterfinals.
My Pick: Switzerland 4 Belarus 2
#6 Canada VS. #11 Germany 4:30 PM PST @ Hockey Canada Place
After a dissapointing Group Stage, the Canadaians will look to put the opening round behind them as the Host Canada will take on Germany. For Germany, the only reason they not the last seed is because Latvia got blown out in their games while at least the Germans were able to keep it close. Don't expect to see very much out of this game as the Canadains have some anger to work out after the loss against the U.S.A. on Sunday night where the Russians could await them in tomorrow's Quarterfinals.
If the Germans are going to have any hope in this game, expect Thomas Greiss of the Worcester Sharks (AHL) to be in the game and he will need to play the game of his life to have any kind of a chance to advance to face Russia in the Quarterfinals.
For Canada, they need to regain focus, have their veteran talent comeup and Roberto Lugano needs to take over this game and prove to Martin Broduer who didn't have a great match against the U.S.A. that he can take over the goaltending duties for the rest of the tournament.
Bottom Line: It will be another end to a very disapointing tournament and a blow to Germany's hopes as they get ready to host the Ice Hockey World Championships coming up in May. Canada is just simply to fast, to strong and to experienced to allow someone like Germany to knock them out. They will need to crush the Germans and get ready for Russia most likely in the Quarterfinals tomorrow.
My Pick: Canada 6 Germany 1
#5 Czech Republic VS. #12 Latvia 7:00 PM @ UBC Thunderbird Arena
After just missing out on a 2nd round bye because the Czechs weren't able to get a full leged blowout that Slovakia and Russia were able to get. This will be the only rematch of the 2nd Round as the Czechs were able to beat Latvia 5-2 back on 2/19. On the contry, Russia was able to win 8-2, while Slovakia put up a 6-0 shutout victory to help them stay in the race to win the group.
Of the last 3 Olympic Winter Games that Latvia has been in. This has cleary been the weakest of the 3 as they have just 1 full time NHL'er as Karlis Skrastins of the Dallas Stars have been doing his best to work on the tournament, but hasen't been able to step up his game to help his less experienced teammates (Many of whom play in the KHL). 4 years ago, they were at least able to pull a tie from the U.S.A. and keep their other games at least close. Latvia has had 3 blowouts and given up 19 goals in the 3 games.
The Czechs bring a powerhouse of talent that is looking to get back on the podium after finnishing with the Bronze Medal back in 2006. With NHL Talent like Milan Michalek, Tomas Plekanec and Tomas Vokoun in net.
This veteran group, esepically the talent that's been in the NHL for well over a decade and been in several Olympics, for some, this could be their last chance to bring home an Olympic Medal in their careers. They would look to find the magic that helped them win Gold in 1998 when the Olympic Games were held in Japan.
Bottom Line: Like the CAN VS. GER Game, expect this one to be a big blowout as the Czechs have already played the Latvians. However, unlike the 1st game, Latvia looks fatigued and just dosen't have the talent to stay in this game. This one won't be close and I would expect the Czechs to have a big first period in this one, so they can give their top players more of a rest and to get them ready for tomorrow's Quarterfinal Matchup.
My Pick: Czech Republic 9 Latvia 1
#7 Slovakia VS. #10 Norway 9:00 PM @ Canada Hockey Place
After being outscored 14-1 in the first 2 games against the U.S.A. & Canada. Norway came back with a nice performance against Switzerland in a back and fourth game where Switzerland won in OT. Despite the losses (8-0 against CAN, 6-1 against USA), they have been able to keep games close through the 2nd intermission as players like Tore Vikingstad, Patrick Thorsen and goaltender Pal Grotnes have fustrated oppoents and the stragtey they have used has been working as the team is back in the Olympic Tournament for the first time since 1994.
If the Norwigaens are going to look for an upset, Tore Vikingstad will need to have an encore performance where he had the tournaments only hat trick so far. Other guys that will need to help set up Vikingstad and hopefully get involved in the scoring themselves are Patrick Thoresen who has 3 assists.
However, it's the defense that's playing better with every game in this tournament with players like Jonos Holos and Mats Trygg have been fantasitic in playing in nearly every situation imiagable as both players played over 25 minutes in their game against Switzerland.
Expect Pal Grotnes to start in net as he as played all but 15:31 of this tournament for Norway, the only game he got pulled in was 4 minutes into the game against Canada when Canada was up 4-0.
Slovakia missed a chance to improve their seeding situation with a 3-1 loss against the Czechs to open the tournament. They were able to beat Russia in a SO, but that loss has put them in a tough situation as they could have gotten at least a 5 or 6 seed if they were able to take advantage of when Alexander Ovechkin and Fedor Tyutin got penalites late in the 2nd and early in the 3rd where they could have taken the lead after trailing 1-0 at the 2nd intermission. Marian Hossa was able to to score SVK only goal of regulation midway through the 3rd period.
Then in the SO, SVK was able to win the SO 2-1 with goals by Pavol Demitra and Jozef Stumpel scored. Alexander Ovechkin was the only Russian player to score in the SO, but it came to little to late in the as Stumpel scored on his next turn, goalie Jaroslav Halak was able to turnaside 6 of 7 shots to win the game.
SVK will needs to be able to get through the Norway Gridlock early on to break away from the Norway's tough defense. If not, this could be the best of the 2nd Round Showdowns and will need to increase their offensive output from their star players like Zigmund Palffy and Richard Zednik. In goal, expect SVK to go with the young 24 year old Jaroslav Halak who's been enjoying a nice run for the Montreal Canadaiens this season. But if he has problems, they can go with Peter Budaj to help them out in a possible secarnio.
Botton Line: This could be the best of the 2nd Round Games. If Norway can contuine to put the fustrations into their oppostion like they did against Switzerland. And if someone like Tore Vikingstad or Patrick Thorsen can come alive, this could be the big upset of the 2nd round. I think SVK will win this game, but don't expect NOR to make it easy and they will give them a challenge to advance to the Quarterfinals.
My Pick: Slovakia 3 Norway 2 (OT)
My Projected Quarterfinal Matchups.
#1 U.S.A. VS. #8 Switzerland
#2 Sweden VS. #7 Slovakia
#3 Canada VS. #6 Russia
#4 Finland VS. #5 Czech Republic
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