Goaltender Ryan Miller stopped 42 of 45 shots from Canada to allow Team USA to pull off a big win over their Northern-border rivals. The Americans played with incredible grit, clearing pucks while falling back, blocking shots, and with Vancouver's own Ryan Kessler icing the game by reaching around Anaheim's Corey Perry and putting a one-handed backhand stab on net with Martin Brodeur pulled in the closing seconds.
But this was more than an upset, as the ramifications of this victory are felt throughout the tournament...
- For one, the United States gets a first round bye, allowing them to make it to the quarterfinals without playing another game. The bye is huge, too: Team USA's opponent plays today and will have to face our boys in red, white, and blue tomorrow.
- The top seed also means we will face either Switzerland or Belarus in the quarterfinals, teams that have only a few NHL players between them. Thus, avoiding a major upset, Team USA will play in either the gold or bronze medal game.
- With the way the rest of the games shook out, we will not have to play more than one of the three medal favourites (Canada, Russia, and Sweden), as they will eliminate one another. Moreover, the only way we face any of them is playing for a medal.
- One of the two teams that were picked by everyone to win the gold, historically underachieving Canada and horribly overrated Russia (people put too much of a premium on offence considering games for titles are played tight and scoring is low), will not get a medal at all.
Let's take a look at today's playoff qualification games...
- Switzerland-Belarus: The Belorussians played very well against a superior Germany squad to earn the one matchup in this round they had a chance to take, as they are about even with Switzerland in skating talent. However, unless Jonas Hiller plays poorly in net for the Swiss--and he already had a bad game in the preliminary rounds, so another is not likely--they are overmatched in the most important position in all of sports. Switzerland 3, Belarus 1
- Canada-Germany: There is no way the Canadians are going to blow this. They have three times the NHL talent (and better talent at that) and too much at stake. Overlooking Switzerland in the preliminary round already cost them one point and a first round bye, and they will play with urgency the rest of the tournament. Canada 6, Germany 0
- Czech Republic-Latvia: The Czechs would be wise to rest Vokoun, because this may be almost as good as a bye. Latvia is one of two teams that has no chance to beat any medal contenders, as they have virtually no NHL talent. The Czechs can get what amounts to a long and hard practice, and play their third- and fourth-line talent (which includes some non-NHL players) so their stars have enough gas tomorrow. Czech Republic 5, Latvia 0
- Slovakia-Norway: Norway is big and physical and can skate, but they have no skill. They are facing one of the more physical defences in the Olympics, and a team whose NHL talent goes beyond two scoring lines and includes some solid goaltending. Slovakia 5, Norway 1
- Team USA: Joe Pavelski has been solid, with two assists in the three games, logging significant penalty kill time.
- Team Sweden: Douglas Murray has been his usual physical presence in limited playing time, averaging just over 12 minutes per game.
- Team Russia: Evgeni Nabokov has done well in net, with a 2.00 goals against average in his two starts--both wins.
- Team Canada: While the Joe Thornton-Patrick Marleau-Dany Heatley line has been arguably Canada's best, Jumbo is doing his usual big-game disappearing act. He has only one assist in three games; Heatley has four goals and Marleau a goal and an assist. Dan Boyle has two assists and is plus-two while logging significant ice time.
- Team Germany: Thomas Greiss did very well in his first start, holding the high-powered Swedes to two goals in a 2-0 loss. However, in his other start against the lesser Belarus squad, he (and his defence) let Germany down in a 5-3 loss, costing them a chance at a winnable game to advance to the quarterfinals.