Posted: Tuesday February 21, 2006 7:40PM; Updated: Wednesday February 22, 2006 10:30AM
Matchup: USA vs. FINLAND
Goalie Rick DiPietro must step up his game for the Americans to have a chance against Finland.
David E. Klutho/SI
The Skinny: Finland has been the dominant team in the tournament, outworking opponents (including Canada), outscoring opponents (19-2) and getting surprisingly strong goaltending from Antero Niittymaki. The defending World Cup runner-up also has one of the best puck-moving defenseman in the tournament, the underrated Kimmo Timonen. The Americans belatedly discovered their dormant power play against Russia, which should give them some impetus. For presumptive U.S. goalie Rick DiPietro, who toils in the New York Islanders' dungeon, this is the match of his life.
The Prediction: Finland
Matchup: SWEDEN vs. SWITZERLAND
The Skinny: The Swedes cozied their way into this matchup against the only unseeded team in the quarters, a strategy that is unlikely to backfire. Despite a middling start to the tournament, Sweden has too much firepower for the overmatched Swiss, which won its gold medal in early-round upsets of the Czech Republic and Canada. Niklas Lidstrom, the best defenseman in the NHL, needs to raise his game, but only a slovenly Swedish effort, an otherworldly performance by Swiss goalie Martin Gerber or a hat trick by Paul DiPietro (hey, he had one in Game 1 of the 1993 semifinals for Montreal against the Islanders) can engineer an upset.
The Prediction: Sweden
Matchup: RUSSIA vs. CANADA
The Skinny: The Russians, bless them, can explode or implode at any moment. The guess is they will keep pumping in goals, led by the magical Alexander Ovechkin. But the Russian defense will cough up the puck. Look for a stiff Canadian forecheck and a breakout performance by Jarome Iginla. If the Canadian defensemen move the puck more quickly and accurately than they did during most of the round-robin, Team Canada is capable of matching the Russians on the scoreboard. The laborious win against the Czechs gave Canada some sorely lacking confidence, and no nation is better in big games.
The Prediction: Canada, in a shootout
Matchup: SLOVAKIA vs. CZECH REPUBLIC
The Skinny: Since joining the Olympics in 1994, there has not been -- nor can there possibly be -- a bigger game for Slovakia against its old partners. The Slovak forwards, led by Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik, are as scary as the Russians. Alas, so is goalie Peter Budaj, who leaves rebounds lying around the way Hansel and Gretel once left crumbs. If Zdeno Chara can clear them, the Slovaks can survive. Czech star Jaromir Jagr can take over a game and is unusually diligent when he plays for his country. But without an injured Dominik Hasek and a shaky Tomas Vokuon in nets -- he looked awful early against Canada in the round-robin -- the world champion Czechs are vulnerable.