Sochi Olympics musings (semifinals)

They dropped the puck on the semifinal game between the United States and Canada on Friday in Sochi, Russia, and a Kings game broke out. Jonathan Quick was superb in goal, the U.S. power play was disorganized and ineffective, the puck stayed mostly on the perimeter and the Americans failed to generate the sustained pressure needed to score enough goals to defeat Canada. The Canadians were the aggressors and if not for Quick, it might have been a far worse result than 1-0.

In the end, Jonathan Toews’ line for Canada neutralized Phil Kessel’s line for the U.S. and David Backes’ U.S. line muzzled Sidney Crosby’s line for Canada. The difference was the depth of the Canadians, with an energetic line of Jamie Benn, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry running amok. Benn scored the only goal of the game and his line did what the Americans could not: generate pressure.

All too often, the Americans got one quality shot away, only to see Carey Price make the save and one of his Canadian teammates move the puck out of danger and into the U.S. zone. Canada’s best defense was a strong offensive game, hanging onto the puck and creating scoring chances through its possession play. The Americans failed to do any of that, which is why they looked exactly like the Kings during Saturday’s semifinal.

Canada meets Sweden in the gold-medal game Sunday.

The U.S. faces Finland for the bronze Saturday.

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Sochi Olympics musings (U.S. vs. Canada)

It’s their game, sure. Canada invented hockey. We get that down here in the United States. It’s their game, their national past-time, their pride and joy. Their sons (and daughters, too) dream of playing for the glory that comes with an Olympic gold medal or a Stanley Cup championship. It’s a sport that defines and unites a nation.

It’s our game, too. Maybe not in the same exact way, but in similar ones.

You’ll see that when the U.S. and Canada play in the semifinals of the Sochi Olympics on Friday at 9 a.m. (PST). You’ll see it in the passion and the hard work and the precision each team displays. In many regards, it will be like watching brothers, and maybe that’s because there are so many NHL brothers fighting for a berth in Sunday’s gold-medal game against either Finland or Sweden.

Team USA’s Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick will be trying to deliver a payback to Canada’s Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty for a loss four years ago in Vancouver. The Ducks’ Cam Fowler of the U,S. will be trying to stop Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and keep them from a second consecutive gold medal. Team USA coach Dan Bylsma will be trying to find ways to neutralize Sidney Crosby of Canada, his best player when they’re both on the job with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And so on and so on.

This is the game they’ll all be chirping about next week, when they return to their respective NHL dressing rooms. It might take more than a few nights of dinner and drinks to bury the hatchets. It might take a few games before their NHL teams are all reunited and feeling so good again. It’s going to be that kind of game Friday.

Sure, this is a game Canada is supposed to win. It is their game. It’s not a game the U.S. can’t win, however. Hockey isn’t an American game the way baseball or football or basketball is. We don’t celebrate Saturday nights at the rink quite the way they do. But we have something of a shared history in the game of hockey, especially internationally and particularly in the way we play the game. Our capacity to defy the odds with our ability to achieve the unthinkable is a shared trait, and a noble one at that. We admire their will to win and they should admire ours, too.

Every Canadian of a certain age can tell you where he or she was when Paul Henderson clinched the 1972 Summit Series victory over the Soviet Union just as every American hockey fan can say where they were when Mike Eruzione scored the go-ahead goal against the Soviets in 1980 in the “Miracle on Ice.”

I remember both moments like they were yesterday, but especially the Americans’ improbable victory, I remember driving to varsity basketball practice when a man on the radio suddenly shouted, “The United States has beaten the Russians 4-3 at Lake Placid.” I pulled to the side of the street and began screaming and honking the horn. It was incredible. It was unbelievable. I was lost in my own little world until I looked across the street and saw a man, screaming and honking his own car horn. We noticed each other and screamed and honked in a shared celebration.

ABC’s Channel 7 wouldn’t air the tape-delayed game for a few more hours in Los Angeles, but the man in the other car and I already believed in miracles.

So, here’s hoping for that kind of Henderson/Eruzione drama Friday.

It’s something we can all appreciate, Canadians and Americans.

Because it’s a game for all of us.

 

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Sochi Olympics musings (semifinal draw)

In the end, it was predictable. All four top-seeded teams won in the quarterfinals Wednesday and advanced to the semifinals Friday. No. 1 Sweden defeated Slovenia; No. 2 United States beat Czech Republic; No. 3 Canada defeated Latvia; and No. 4 Finland ousted Russia. Sweden will face Finland in one border war and the U.S. will play Canada in another, a rematch of the gold-medal game from Vancouver in 2010. Ready to get your hate on? Oh, it’s going to be like that.

So, who plays in the gold-medal game on Sunday morning?

Well, the U.S. has been perhaps the most impressive team of the tournament, from its gritty play to its efficient scoring. The Americans have won mostly in routs, save for an eight-round shootout victory over Russia. Their role players have been superb, especially Ryan Kesler and David Backes. Phil Kessel has been a scorer with a deft touch. Goaltender Jonathan Quick of the Kings has been unbeatable for the Americans. Canada has the better team on paper, with more depth and a pedigree that’s impossible to match. The Kings’ Drew Doughty and the Ducks’ Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have been the Canadians’ most consistent players. Others like Sidney Crosby have been all but invisible, which is what almost cost Canada during their 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Latvia.

I’ve picked Canada all along and I won’t change now.

As for the other game, Sweden has sailed through the tournament without appearing to drop a bead of sweat. That’s about to change with rival Finland awaiting the Swedes on Friday. Goaltender Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins has been superb and the Ducks’ 43-year-old Teemu Selanne continued to cement his legendary Olympic status with a goal and an assist in the Finns’ quarterfinal win over Russia. The Finns look like they’re on a mission.

I’ve got to go with Finland.

 

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Sochi Olympics musings (quarterfinal draw)

After the one-sided qualification games were completed Tuesday, here’s what the quarterfinal matchups will be:

No. 1 Sweden plays Slovenia at midnight Tuesday.

No. 2 U.S. plays Czech Republic at 9 a.m. Wednesday (USA Network).

No. 3 Canada plays Latvia at 9 a.m. Wednesday (MSNBC).

No. 4 Finland plays Russia at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Despite the presence of the Kings’ Anze Kopitar with Slovenia, I don’t see Sweden having a struggle. Goaltender Jonathan Quick of the Kings and Team USA should defeat the Czechs, but better not take anything for granted or it will be a long flight home. Canada should rout Latvia. Finland’s matchup with Russia looms as the only one with the slightest bit of intrigue. The pressure is on the hosts to win gold. Finland has played a strong, smart game since its opener and has superb goaltending. Still, it would be an upset if the Russians don’t win and advance to the semifinals. The semis should look like this Friday:

Sweden vs. Russia and U.S. vs. Canada.

 

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Sochi Olympics musings (Day 5)

Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs had a hat trick in Team USA’s 5-1 rout of Slovenia in its final preliminary-round game. Slovenia played the third period without center Anze Kopitar of the Kings, who fell ill and was sent to a medical clinic. Kopitar was released later in the day and expected to be fit to play in the next round. Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres made 17 saves and came within 18 seconds of a shutout while starting in place of the Kings’ Jonathan Quick.

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U.S.-Russia game sets viewership record for NBCSN, network says

Saturday’s 3-2 shootout victory for the United States over Russia averaged 4.1 million viewers for NBCSN’s telecast, setting a record for the network. Now imagine what the viewership might have been like if it were on free TV on NBC rather than its all-sports cable spinoff way down the dial. Also imagine if more West Coast viewers might have been awake for the 4:30 a.m. (PST) faceoff. Viewership peaked at 6.4 million for the eight-round shootout, which was roughly between 7 and 7:30.

The previous best for NBCSN was 4.0 million for Game 3 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks.

 

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Sochi Olympics musings (Day 3)

Canada did the expected and routed Austria 6-0 on Friday, one day after turning in a jittery 3-1 victory over Norway. Kings forward Jeff Carter scored three goals, a natural hat trick, for Team Canada. Not a big surprise since Carter is one of Canada’s top goal scorers. I guess the surprise was Carter actually stopped to talk to reporters after the game. Here’s what he said of his hat trick: ”I didn’t really have to shoot many of them — or any of them. I just drove the net on basically all of them. It’s a good sign if you’re getting offense like that.”

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Sochi Olympics musings (Day 2)

The United States looked so good in the second period of its 7-1 rout of Slovakia on Thursday morning that i might have to change my opinion on the Americans’ medal chances. Could be playing for the gold Feb. 23. I mean, if the Kings’ Dustin Brown is scoring goals for the Americans, anything is possible. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was sharp when there was pressure, which wasn’t all that often.

Canada looked so jittery at times in the first period that you almost had to feel sorry for the gold-medal favorites. Drew Doughty’s dance through the Norway defense on his way to the third goal for the Canadians seemed to loosen things up. The Kings’ defenseman accepted a centering pass from the Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf and went all Bobby Orr to give the Canadians a 3-1 lead.

Russia’s victory over the Kings’ Anze Kopitar and Slovenia was all too predictable. But despite the flashes of brilliance, there were signs of Russian vulnerability. It shouldn’t have been as tight a game as it was.

Finland has some amazing skills in addition to fine goaltending and maybe I should think about moving them into medal contention, too.

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Kings Jonathan Quick makes Jeremy Roenick work for it during interview

Here’s the brief Q-and-A between NBC’s Jeremy Roenick and the Kings’ Jonathan Quick, who will start in goal for Team USA’s Olympic opener Thursday morning:

Roenick: Jonathan, you just got named starting goaltender for the Olympics 2014, how does that make you feel?

Quick: “Ah, well, I believe it’s just for tomorrow’s game. Yeah, continue to focus on what we have to do to win tomorrow’s game. Obviously, in a short tournament you want to make the most of every time you’re on the ice, whether it’s in practice or in a game. So, we’ve got to do all that preparation tonight and tomorrow get ready for the game.”

Roenick: What are your impressions of the team? You guys have skated a couple of times now. What do you see in front of you? What are the strengths of the team?

Quick: “We’ve got a lot of speed. We’ve got a lot of guys that are skilled and could put the puck in the net and create opportunities. We’ve got guys who can grind and try to tire out their team deep in their corners. So, on the D end, we’ve got some good stay-at-home guys and some good puck-movement guys. At the end of the day, you’ve just got to try to out-work the other team and be more prepared than they are.”

Roenick: What about the Olympic style and the bigger ice? What kind of challenge does that pose for a goaltender? Anything different with the big ice sheet?

Quick: “It changes the angles a little bit, not much that it’s that significant. You just … it kind of … it just makes you … it keeps you on your toes a little more. You make sure you’re on the puck ready to roll at all times. It’s obviously not what you’re used to playing on, so mentally you’ve got to be on top of it. Make sure you’re on your angles.”

 

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