Jim put me in charge of putting up the open game thread for this afternoon's contest between the Unites States and Finland. Below is basically my rundown and pregame preview of the game.
Win this game and you could capture the Gold. That will be the message within the Team USA locker room this afternoon as the United States will take on Mikka Kiprusoff and Team Finland in the semifinal round of the Men’s Hockey Tournament. Finland will likely give the U.S. a bit more of a challenge than Switzerland did, although that game was close, so the Americans will have to be sharp in this contest. The later game will determine who USA would play if they were to win this game, but it would likely be a rematch against the Canadians on Sunday.
Team USA responded with a great effort after being criticized by general manager Brian Burke after the win over Team Canada last weekend. They played with grit, the defense was strong, and of course, Miller was solid in net. Like I said, I still think Burke made that comment so the team would not feel all high and mighty after defeating their rivals. It is very easy for a squad to enter a game thinking they are automatic winners just because they are the favorites. USA did not make that mistake on Wednesday.
This match has some history to it going back to the 2006 Olympics in Turin. The Finns were the ones who eliminated the Americans in a less than satisfying run for the U.S. hockey team that year. You would hope that the United States will get their revenge today, because not medaling in the tournament would be devastating after getting this far. By the way, allow me to clear up what I said in the postgame recap of Wednesday’s win. The U.S. was guaranteed a medal game, not a medal after that victory. I think some people may have misunderstood that so I apologize for not making it clear.
More after the Jump>>
Zach Parise finally got things kicked into gear in the tilt with the Swiss, netting two goals on the day. Well that is great, but what about the rest of the primary offense on the team? They were ineffective yet again. Patrick Kane and Paul Stastny are the two individuals who come to mind that must pick up their offensive game. They are getting by without them now, but as Team USA progresses through the tournament, they will need more and more of their lineup contributing. So far, about half of the team’s forwards have been no-shows.
I still feel that Rangers forward Chris Drury has been one of the better performers on the team. He has two huge impact goals in four games played, his penalty-killing has been tremendous, and he has even got it going in the opposition’s zone with the hard forecheck. Drury, for a player that has been looked at as a fourth liner, has been instrumental in USA’s immaculate record thus far in the tournament.
Goaltender Ryan Miller should have a fairly light game this afternoon and allow me to explain why. So far, Team Finland has been all about playing defense. They do not score many goals, they do not generate much offense. What they do execute well is their defensive play. So the pressure shouldn’t be on Miller in this one, it should be on the United States offense. That goes back to what I said above about more of the forwards contributing.
There is a good chance that this will have to be a situation where USA will have to grind out a win, much like we see when the Rangers play the Devils in the NHL. I doubt it is high scoring and I doubt either offense generates much. Once again, it may be a frustrating but exciting match-up at the same time.
Enjoy the Game Everyone!