PREVIEW: Canada vs. USA
USA faces Canada in Olympics' marquee matchup
NOTE: records are presented as three-point wins (regulation time), two-point wins (OT or shootout), one-point losses (OT or shootout), zero-point losses (regulation time).
What to watch -- This game will decide the Group A title, an honor that comes with a bye into Wednesday's quarterfinals. Despite the one-point difference between the teams, the winner of Sunday's game will advance. If the Canadians win in overtime or a shootout, the teams will be tied with seven points, but Canada would get the nod because of a better goal differential. The second-place team in this group would still be in the running for the fourth bye into the quarterfinals, given to the team with the best record of the three second-place finishers. If the loser of Sunday's game does not get the fourth bye, it will have to play in Tuesday's win-or-go-home qualification game against one of the bottom three teams in pool play.
But this game is about more than seeding. It is about national pride between two mortal enemies, a rivalry that brings out the best in both teams. The winner will get an unbelievable boost in confidence -- as well as a valuable heading into the quarterfinals, while the loser will have precious time to do some serious soul-searching and regrouping.
Last game -- United States defeated Norway, 6-1, on Thursday; Canada defeated Switzerland, 3-2, in a shootout on Thursday.
United States -- Despite a perfect run through the first two games of the tournament, the Americans are still looking for answers as this game approaches. They have been able to get their first line -- Pat Kane, Zach Parise and Paul Stastny -- on track and are now thinking about playing Kane with Bobby Ryan and Ryan Kesler to give Kane more freedom to freelance. That means that New Jersey's Jamie Langenbrunner would likely move up to play with Parise, his Devils' teammate, and Stastny.
So far, the Americans have been carried offensively by traditional power forwards. Ryan Malone has a goal in each game and David Backes has been devastating on the forecheck. They are also confident in goalie Ryan Miller, who has been spectacular at times, despite a lack of consistent work. Much of the downtime before Sunday's game was spent talking about the power play, which has struggled mightily in going a pedestrian 2-for-8 in the tournament. American coach Ron Wilson believes it is just a matter of timing on the breakout portion of the man-advantage scheme and that it can be readily fixed. He also wants his defensemen to shoot early and often on the power play, something they have been reluctant to do so far.
Canada -- There are the slightest tinges of panic in and around the Canadian camp after the Slovakians erased a two-goal deficit Thursday to push the game to the shootout, but both coach Mike Babcock and GM Steve Yzerman have been trying to ease the worry, insisting all is fine. Still, there are questions surrounding this team.
First, who will play in goal going forward? Babcock has already said that Brodeur is his goalie on Sunday, but what if he struggles again? Vancouver's Roberto Luongo pitched a shutout against Norway and is the hometown favorite. There will be pressure to get him another game. Also, who will play on Sidney Crosby's wing? Several players -- including Jarome Iginla, Patrice Bergeron and Mike Richards -- have been given turns with mixed results. Finally, can this team keep its cool as the pressure mounts? Defenseman Chris Pronger was in the midst of committing a retaliatory penalty when the Swiss scored the goal that tied the game in the second period. Even Babcock admitted that many of his players were squeezing their sticks in the last 10 minutes of regulation and throughout overtime against the Swiss as the Canada Hockey Place crowd grew restless.
"I thought the game turned when they got their first goal," Babcock said. "We tightened up. In every championship I've been a part of, your team has to go through adversity and we were able to survive it." The fact that a win is considered adversity shows the extent of microscope under which this team is playing.
Total NHL players on rosters -- USA 23; Canada 23.
Puck Drop -- The Canada-USA game is the crown jewel of Showdown Sunday, which also features another pair of heated rivalries: Finland vs. Sweden and the Czech Republic vs. Russia. How good could it be? American coach Ron Wilson says it could be the best day of international hockey ever.
"I think it'll be very intense on Sunday," he said. "I think this is one of the greatest hockey days of all time. It's all natural rivals, border rivals. You've got the Czechs and the Russians for their own separate reasons, Swedes and Finns and U.S. and Canada. It might be one of the greatest hockey days internationally of all time. It should be Hockey Day in Canada on Sunday. It's not Toronto playing Ottawa or Calgary playing Edmonton. This takes on an entirely different meaning for all the people involved."
Sounds like must-see TV to us. Enjoy!
NHL.com Prediction: Let the teeth gnashing commence as Canada drops a close decision to the Americans in what should be an up-and-down game with vicious hitting and great goaltending on both sides. It says here that the Americans escape with a one-goal victory, perhaps 2-1. But it is not the end of the world for the host team, which has the quality and mental toughness to fight their way into the medal round.