PREVIEW: Slovakia vs. Norway
Norway gets one last chance against Slovakia
What to watch -- After a close loss to the Czechs to open the tournament, the Slovaks have slowly been hitting their stride, shocking the Russians in a shootout and then throttling the Latvians on Saturday.
Norway, meanwhile, has been immensely entertaining, despite losing its three games. It hung close with the Canadians for a little more than a period and the Americans for two-plus periods and then forced the Swiss into overtime in one of the best games of the tournament. It will be interesting to see if the Norwegians have any left in reserve to give the Slovaks a scare.
"The guys are gaining confidence all the time," said Norwegian defenseman Juha Kaunismaki. "We were the better team against Switzerland. We are going to bring that self-confidence to the next game."
So, it appears that the Norwegians, who have had two days to regroup from the 5-4 OT loss to the Swiss, believe they have gas left in the tank as they two nations meet for the first time at the Olympics.
Last game: Norway lost in overtime to Switzerland, 5-4; Slovakia defeated Latvia, 6-0.
Norway -- The Norwegians showed that they can cause some trouble throughout the preliminary round. Norwegian forward Tore Vikingstad had a coming-out party against the Swiss, scoring the second hat trick of the tournament. Canada's Jarome Iginla has the other. That's pretty good company to keep.
Norway's other big threat up front is is Mats Zuccarello Aasen, who has been a whirling dervish throughout the first three games and is among the elite skaters in this tournament. But, if Norway hopes to stay in this game, Pal Grotnes, the goalie, will be the difference. He frustrated the Canadians before Leaving with leg cramps. He also held the Americans at bay for the first 54 minutes of their game. And, despite allowing five goals against the Swiss, he was routinely brilliant on Saturday, as well.
Slovakia -- To many, the Slovakians are now a true dark horse in this tournament. They have put behind them a potentially soul-crushing loss to bitter rival Czech Republic on the second night of the tournament to put together a qualifying campaign that they can build upon going forward -- especially the shootout win against the Russians.
"Every game we play well, it's just increasing the self confidence,": said Slovakian coach Jan Filc. "I'm sure this is another step we made (beating Latvia on Saturday) and hopefully to give us a really good opportunity to go farther through the qualification round."
The Slovaks are especially confident in goalie Jaroslav Halak, who has been incredibly strong against both the Czech Republic and the Russians, two of the most potent scoring teams in the tournament. He even stoned Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin on two of three shootout attempts.
Total NHL players in game: Norway: 0. Slovakia: 13.
Puck Drop -- Norway knows that this is its last chance to shock the world at these Olympics and it is hoping they run into an overconfident Slovakian team that is already looking forward to playing Sweden in Wednesday's quarterfinals.
"This is our main game and maybe we can do a miracle," said Norway's Kaunismaki. "We're really a small hockey country. We're here and we're trying to do a miracle. We will try to do our best and show that we can play good hockey in a strong winter culture country like Norway."
NHL.com predicts: Believing you can do something and actually doing it are two different things. Unfortunately for Norway, perhaps the most entertaining team in this tournament, they will continue to cling to the former while unable to accomplish the latter. Slovakia will get a good challenge, however, before its quarterfinal match against the Swedes, winning this game by a 4-2 scoreline.