Olympic hockey tournament has yielded its Final Four. Without a doubt, four best teams have made it this far, and we are going to see the best games of the tournament today. Perhaps fittingly, we are going to have one European and one North American finalist.
(1) Sweden vs. (4) Finland (7:30 am EST, NBCSN)
Two neighbors and fierce rivals face off in the first match. Sweden has been perfect in this tournament so far, going 4-0-0-0 and really dominating their quarterfinal match against Slovenia. Watching Swedes play on the big ice is an ultimate hockey fan's dream. They are so effortlessly good and fluid, and excel in every facet of the game. I would probably argue that Sweden hasn't exactly been tested by a top-performing team yet, and that test is going to come tomorrow. Lundqvist will have to be at his best for Sweden to outlast the pesky Finns, whose quarterfinal dispatch of Russia was called a surprise, but really it wasn't. The Finns play their system to perfection, they are patient, disciplined and methodical, but they are also a lot tougher than they're often given credit for. Despite losing all their top players down the middle, they continued to play like nothing happened. We will, of course, all have our eyes glued to Olli Maatta, who's made such incredible strides that I've run out of superlatives. He led all Finnish players in ice time against Russia with 19:54, and was good for 4 points in 4 games. Jussi Jokinen has had a quieter tournament, although I expect him to be more visible tomorrow. Teemu Selanne has discovered chemistry with Mikael Granlund. Unfortunately for Finland, Tuukka Rask, who has been incredible so far, is out with an illness. Kari Lehtonen will start in goal, backed up by Antti Niemi. Sweden is ranked #1 in the world and seeded #1 in this tournament for a reason. They are still the team to beat here. Prediction: Sweden
(2) USA vs. (3) Canada (12 noon EST, NBCSN)
All the roads were leading to this showdown at some late point in the tournament, and here we are. I think it's fair to say that Americans have been superb so far, while Canadians have looked something less than totally dominating, due mostly to a distinct lack of chemistry up and down the forward lineup. They have lost Tavares (who is in fact lost for the season due to a torn meniscus and MCL), which will allow Matt Duchene to dress tomorrow. Carey Price has been good, for the most part, and their defense has been really good. Team USA had no chemistry problems, those test tubes are exploding with sparks. I'm still waiting for the Patrick Kane official launch, and I think we'll see him crank it up tomorrow. Sidney Crosby will get up close and personal with David Backes, Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan, and that will be a beautiful thing. Prediction: USA
There you have it. The only shame is that one of these four teams will finish without a medal. Let's go Jussi, Olli, Paulie and Brooksy, and of course Dan Bylsma and Tony Granato! Go get 'em!