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Men’s Olympic hockey tournament preview

Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby

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MARK LAZERUS’
PREDICTIONS

Gold: Sweden

Silver: United States

Bronze: Canada

Tournament MVP: Henrik Lundqvist

SCHEDULE

Wednesday

Group C: Czech Republic vs. Sweden, 11 a.m., USA

Group C: Latvia vs. Switzerland, 11 a.m., MSNBC

Thursday

Group B: Finland vs. Austria, 2 a.m., NBCSN

Group A: Russia vs. Slovenia, 6:30 a.m., MSNBC

Group A: Slovakia vs. United States, 6:30 a.m., NBCSN

Group B: Canada vs. Norway, 11 a.m., USA

FRIday

Group C: Czech Republic vs. Latvia, 2 a.m., MSNBC

Group C: Sweden vs. Switzerland, 6:30 a.m., NBCSN

Group B: Canada vs. Austria, 11 a.m., USA

Group B: Norway vs. Finland, 11 a.m., MSNBC

SATURDAY

Group A: Slovakia vs. Sweden, 2 a.m., NBCSN

Group A: United States vs. Russia, 6:30 a.m., NBCSN

Group C: Switzerland vs. Czech Republic, 11 a.m., NBCSN

Group C: Sweden vs. Latvia, 11 a.m., USA

SUNDAY

Group B: Aus. vs. Nor., 2 a.m., USA

Group A: Russia vs. Slovakia, 6:30 a.m., USA

Group A: Slovenia vs. United States, 6:30 a.m., NBCSN

Group B: Fin. vs. Can., 11 a.m., USA

Tuesday

Qualification playoff round

NEXT Wednesday

Quarterfinals

Friday, Feb. 21

Semifinals

Saturday, Feb. 22

Bronze medal

Sunday, Feb. 23

Gold medal

Article Extras
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Updated: February 11, 2014 11:57PM



CANADA (Las Vegas odds: 2-1)

Recent Olympics: Gold in 2010, seventh in 2006, gold in 2002.

Star power: Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry.

Why it’ll win gold: Canada has, by far, the most loaded roster in the tournament, particularly up the middle. Tavares was a Hart Trophy finalist last year, and he might be centering the third line or playing left wing. On the back end, reigning Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban might be a healthy scratch each night. Canada is the reigning champion and the favorite again for obvious reasons.

Why it won’t: Goaltending is a big question mark. Coach Mike Babcock has yet to announce whether Roberto Luongo or Carey Price will be between the pipes. And there hasn’t been a repeat champion since the Soviet Union disbanded.

RUSSIA (9-4)

Recent Olympics: Sixth in 2010, fourth in 2006, bronze in 2002.

Star power: Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Semin.

Why it’ll win gold: Because it has to. The pressure on the Russians to win Vladimir Putin’s $50 billion Olympics might be even greater than what the Canadians felt in 2010 in Vancouver. A big reason the NHL even participated in these far-flung Games is because players such as Ovechkin threatened to abandon their teams to go to Sochi if it didn’t. So the emotion and raucous home crowds might carry the Russians to gold. At least, it better.

Why it won’t: Russia simply doesn’t have the roster to do it. Nine of its players aren’t even in the NHL. It has enough skill up front to match up with anyone, but the defense simply isn’t up to snuff. And neither Semyon Varlamov nor Sergei Bobrovsky has played on such a stage before. The pressure might help the Russians, or it might lead to a total collapse.

SWEDEN (9-2)

Recent Olympics: Fifth in 2010, gold in 2006, fifth in 2002.

Star power: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson, Henrik Lundqvist.

Why it’ll win gold: Defense and goaltending win championships, and nobody can match Sweden on the back end. Lundqvist is the best goalie in the world and was rounding into form the last few weeks with the Rangers. Also, European players tend to fare better on the bigger international ice surface.

Why it won’t: The Swedes are just too banged up. Losing Henrik Sedin might be like losing both Sedins because nobody is quite sure how Daniel will play without his twin brother. Johan Franzen didn’t make the trip, either. The Swedes aren’t at full strength and might not have the firepower to keep up with Canada and Russia.

UNITED STATES (6-1)

Recent Olympics: Silver in 2010, eighth in 2006, silver in 2002.

Star power: Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, Ryan Suter.

Why it’ll win gold: Team USA eschewed some of its most productive players — Bobby Ryan and Kyle Okposo, for example — in favor of building an actual team, with penalty-killers, checking-liners and guys who can fit a role. It’s not the best roster, but it might become the best team.

Why it won’t: It caught lightning in a bottle in 2010, and that might have been its best shot at gold. Also, coach Dan Bylsma has to make the right call in goal. Ryan Miller showed in 2010 that he can carry a team to a medal, and Jonathan Quick showed in 2012 that he can carry a team to a Stanley Cup. Bylsma’s choice might decide everything.

FINLAND (11-1)

Recent Olympics: Bronze in 2010, silver in 2006, sixth in 2002.

Star power: Teemu Selanne, Jussi Jokinen, Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen.

Why it’ll win gold: The Finns are always under the radar but always wind up in the hunt. This year, they have (along with the United States) the best goaltending depth in the Olympics. Rask is a proven big-stage performer in the playoffs, and Niemi is a Stanley Cup winner. The Finns also have a surprisingly solid defensive corps, thanks to youngsters Olli Maatta and Sami Vatanen bolstering the depth.

Why it won’t: There’s just not enough offense. As great as it would be to see the ageless Selanne cap his Olympic career with a gold medal, the odds are stacked too high. The Finns again might sneak into a bronze, but gold is simply asking too much.

THE FIELD

Star power: Marian Hossa (Slovakia), Jaromir Jagr (Czech Republic), Anze Kopitar (Slovenia), Jonas Hiller (Switzerland), Thomas Vanek (Austria).

Why it’ll win gold: Well, the Czechs won gold as recently as 1998 and bronze in 2006. Slovakia was agonizingly close to bronze in Vancouver.

Why it won’t: The superpowers are just to super and just too powerful. But there are plenty of spoilers in the field. It’s not hard to imagine Hiller stealing an elimination game, Hossa willing Slovakia back into contention or the Czechs making one last run. After all, as Hossa put it Tuesday: ‘‘It’s about one game. And you can beat anybody in one game.’’



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