The United States and Canada will have their rematch in Sochi, even if they took different paths to get there.
While Team USA blasted the Czech Republic 5-2 at Shayba Arena (BOX SCORE) on Wednesday, the Canadians needed a late Shea Weber goal to edge Latvia 2-1 across the street at Bolshoy Ice Dome (BOX SCORE).
At any rate, the two North American rivals will meet Friday in the men’s hockey semifinals. Faceoff is scheduled for noon Eastern and it will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network. This marks the second straight Olympics in which the USA and Canada have both made the final four.
The two countries memorably clashed in the Olympic final four years ago in Vancouver, with Canada taking the gold medal on Sidney Crosby‘s overtime goal after Zach Parise tied it late for the Americans. This time around, the winner will face Sweden or Finland on Sunday for the title.
Canada was the clear favorite entering these Olympics, but Team USA is playing like the top contender so far. Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has the Red, White & Blue cruising through four games, outscoring opponents 20-6. Top-line forwards Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Joe Pavelski have combined for seven goals and 11 assists, while a smooth-skating defense corps has largely limited opponents’ chances.
The Czechs were frisky early in the quarterfinal, tying the game after a quick van Riemsdyk strike and threatening to go ahead, but David Backes recorded a goal and an assist before the first intermission to put the USA in control 3-1. Parise and Kessel added goals to extend the lead and Jonathan Quick stopped 21 shots in his third start.
Penguins defensemen Paul Martin (19:12 of ice time) and Brooks Orpik (18:41) continued to serve as a “shutdown” pairing for Bylsma, although the entire team will face its toughest challenge of the tournament Friday.
Canada struggled to score against a Latvian team making a surprise quarterfinal appearance, although the defending champs generated a 57-16 shot advantage. Crosby, reunited on a line with Pittsburgh teammate Chris Kunitz, won 15 of 21 faceoffs in 18:03, but he failed to add to his disappointing two-assist total in the tournament.
Crosby had his strongest results early, but he missed on a breakaway chance and set up Kunitz for a shot that hit the crossbar behind Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis.
Even after Canada’s survival, there is much angst north of the border about their team’s scoring struggles. The Canadians have a meager shooting percentage of 7.7, which may indicate they’re due for a breakout.
On the other side, Team USA is connecting on a tournament-best 16.7 percent of their shots. They will have to keep up their sharp finishing – and their overall level of play – to eliminate Canada and play for a gold medal this weekend.