I have heard of men scheduling vasectomies to be performed during the first rounds of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, giving them a legitimate excuse to take off work and lay around for a couple of days. With that in mind, I pose this question, “Is it too late to schedule one in anticipation of the USA-Canada hockey game Friday?”
With all due respect to March Madness, the NFL Playoffs, the NHL playoffs and the forthcoming NCAA football playoffs, I have always felt that the Olympic Hockey Tournament is the best playoffs—ever since the inclusion of NHL players. It is hard to compare it to the others. It is the best of the best of the best, and it does come only once every four years. In some cases, though, we get the worst of the best (see Russia—they have got to be fuming by now).
Wednesday’s 5-2 win over the Czech Republic allowed Team USA to advance to the semifinals where they will face Canada. Despite outshooting Latvia 57-16, Canada squeaked by with a 2-1 win, scoring a power play goal from Shea Weber with just 6:54 to go in the third period, beating exhausted goalie Kristers Gudlevskis.
Friday’s tilt will be a rematch of the 2010 Vancouver gold medal game, which Canada won in overtime.
In the win over the Czech Republic, Team USA got on the board quickly with a goal by James van Riemsdyk just 1:39 into the first period. However, the Czechs answered back about three minutes later to tie it. About 10 minutes later, the U.S. went up for good when Dustin Brown scored with David Backes getting an assist. Backes would increase the lead with time running out in the first. He was to the right of the Czech goal when the puck was shot in. It caromed off the boards, Backes shot it in from an odd angle, and USA had a 3-1 lead after one period. Zach Parise would make it 4-1 midway through the second, and the U.S. put on a death grip when Phil Kessel made it 5-1 early in the third. Jonathan Quick was between the pipes, and stopped 21 of 23 shots for the win. The victory broke a 5-game losing streak to the Czech Republic.
While T.J. Oshie may have captured the nation’s attention, and deservedly so, it is David Backes who is leading this team. In four games, he has three goals and an assist for four points and only four penalty minutes. Moreover, his physical presence has set the tone for a physical Team USA. In the 5-2 win over the Czech Republic, Team USA was consistently taking the body. Their checks were leading to turnovers, which in turn lead to more scoring chances. In addition, the physical play was limiting any sustained pressure by the Czechs, who were held in check throughout most of the game.
It would do well for Backes, Oshie (1 goal, 3 assists), and Kevin Shattenkirk (3 assists) to keep this physical play tucked away in their heads. Team USA Head Coach Dam Bylsma is also the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blues and Penguins do have a legitimate chance of meeting up in June for a chance to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Finally, by making it to the semifinals, Team USA will at least play for a Bronze Medal. We want more than that! Strap it on! Let’s face it, these two teams know each other very well. Many of these players are otherwise teammates. There will be a lot of hitting, a lot of scoring chances, and a lot of big saves.
In what has already been an entertaining Olympics for Team USA, the game this Friday, which will be just one day shy of the Miracle on Ice anniversary, could catapult them into the Gold Medal game.