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Penguins’ World Cup of Hockey: Semifinals

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It’s Mario vs. Geno and Sid vs. Jagr in a very star-studded semifinals of our World Cup style tournament

Jaromir Jagr (R) captain of the Czech Republic te Photo credit should read ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP via Getty Images

Here’s our latest project to help pass the time until the hockey season comes back, a fictional “World Cup of Hockey” by breaking up players who played for the Penguins to their respective national teams and seeing them vie for superiority and bragging rights.

We completed the group stage games last week with some polls, you can catch up with that right here.

Group A

(Standings are Win, OT Win, OT Loss, Loss)

Mario Lemieux’s Team Canada (3-0-0-0)
Team USA (1-1-0-1)
Team World (0-1-0-2)
Team Finland (0-0-2-1)

Group B

Sidney Crosby’s Team Canada (2-0-1-0)
Team Russia (2-0-0-1)
Team Czech Republic (1-1-0-1)
Team Sweden (0-0-0-3)

Here’s how the Group Stage ended up.

#1A Lemieux Team Canada 6 #4B Team Sweden 2

It was a romp for Mario + the Crosby-era Canadians. Chris Kunitz and Jarome Iginla scored twice a piece, Lemieux had a goal and five assists and this one wasn’t much of a competition with Marc-Andre Fleury calm and cool and seeing little work.

#2B Team Russia 7 #3A Team World 4

The Russians captured 90% of the fan vote, but subpar goaltending and lax defensive play made this one a closer game than the vote suggested. The overall skill of the Russians pushes them forward to the next round with Evgeni Malkin (2G+3A) and Alexei Kovalev (2G+3A) leading the way.

#1B Crosby Team Canada 6 #4A Team Finland 1

Not to be outdueled, Sidney Crosby + the Lemieux-era Canadians pulled away early and scored often on the overmatched Finns. Rick Tocchet (3G) and Mark Recchi (2G+3A) have settled in and are developing great chemistry with Crosby who has used the speed of Paul Coffey to create a very uptempo pace that the Finns couldn’t keep up with.

#3B Team Czech Republic 4 #2A Team USA 3 (OT)

The Czechs, often known for pulling out great national team performances, ride high with a Marty Straka OT goal to pull a minor upset and advance. Tomas Vokoun quietly gives the Czechs one of the stronger options in net in this tournament and found a way to make one more save than Tom Barrasso, as voted by the Pensburgh readers to send Kevin Stevens and the Americans home early.

Now, we’re down to the star-studded final four teams left. It’s Mario vs. Geno on one side and Sid vs. Jagr on the other as the biggest icons in franchise history have some serious supporting firepower to help them out.

Mario’s Canada vs. Russia

Forward-wise, the teams are fairly equal. The star centers of Lemieux and Malkin will set the tone. Mario has Jarome Iginla and Chris Kunitz on his wings. Malkin is working with Aleksey Morozov and Alexei Kovalev. This looks pretty close to even, especially with a Lemieux/Iginla vs. Malkin/Kovalev very high-end battle. The Russians can’t be dismissed, but the Canadians aren’t a weaker trio here.

Defensively, the clubs are similar in strength. The two Sergei’s (Gonchar and Zubov) might even have a bit of an all-around slight edge over Canada’s pair of Trevor Daley and Kris Letang.

In net, Fleury vs. Alexander Pechurskiy is the matchup. Pechurskiy has only one career NHL game and a modest KHL career where he was mostly a backup. Fleury has a high peak of possible play (as seen in the 2008 playoffs and the 2017 series vs the Caps) but also much deeper a defined valleys (like playoffs 2010-14, let’s say no more). Which Fleury shows up here in a pressure game? Will it even matter?

Poll

Mario’s Team Canada vs. Team Russia:

This poll is closed

  • 35%
    Big win for Canada
    (141 votes)
  • 51%
    Close win for Canada
    (206 votes)
  • 6%
    Close win for the Russians
    (27 votes)
  • 6%
    It comes down to the shootout (if this wins I will literally flip a coin)
    (28 votes)
402 votes total Vote Now

Crosby’s Canada vs. Team Czech Republic

The other semifinal matchup is another electric meeting. Up front Crosby with Rick Tocchet and Mark Recchi are a very balanced group of speed, skill and a net-front edge. But the Czech’s have no shortage of a speed and skill gap with Straka, Robert Lang and Jagr going up against them. That’s pretty even on paper, though probably a small edge to the Canadians, even considering the Czechs always seem to elevate and find magic in tournaments (and have a history of beating better-on-paper Team Canada’s in the semifinals!...)

Defensively the tide turns. Crosby and company bearing down on Jiri Slegr and Michal Rozsival is a big mismatch in the Canadians’ favor. But the Canadian defenders of Coffey and Larry Murphy aren’t exactly known as strong in their own end, and the big bodies of Lang and Jagr may be able to protect the puck and find success working down low as well.

Styles make fights, as they say in boxing, and in net the edge goes back to the Czechs — who may be able to off-set their defensive woes if Tomas Vokoun can cover up mistakes and close the door on the Canadians. Canada is rolling with Ken Wregget, who had a prolific 15 year career, albeit mostly as a backup.

Can the Czechs continue writing another Cinderella story, or will Crosby put an end to that?

Poll

Crosby’s Team Canada vs. Team Czech Republic

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Big win for Canada
    (93 votes)
  • 44%
    Close win for Canada
    (173 votes)
  • 24%
    Close win for the Czechs
    (96 votes)
  • 7%
    It comes down to the shootout (and a literal coin flip to decide the winner)
    (29 votes)
391 votes total Vote Now