Wild Winter Wednesday at Olympics


Written on 2/25/2010 by Jim Cerny

I know Gary Bettman has more things to consider than just the games themselves when he decides his stance on whether or not there will be NHL participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

But I'd be hard-pressed to say that what we saw yesterday on the ice---four exciting and truly compelling Quarterfinal ice hockey matches---can not be anything but good for the sport of hockey, in general, and the National Hockey League, in particular.

I will leave the business side to Mr. Bettman. He prefers it that way anyway. I'll focus on what I know better, and that is the game of hockey; and yesterday was a great day for the sport on the grand stage of the Winter Games.

Following are some notes and thoughts from each of yesterday's four Quarterfinal contests, or at least as best I remember them! My head is still somewhat numb from a day that included covering the Rangers return to practice at the MSG Training Center, Tweeting and reporting on all four Olympic games, writing a Rangers' feature on the team's official site, and having spirited back-and-forth about all things Olympic hockey with you great readers and Tweeps over at Twitter.

That's pretty much starting work Wednesday morning and plowing through non-stop until Slovakia (pictured above) finally ousted defending champion Sweden at around 2:30 Thursday morning! But you know what, I have always said this beats working a real job any day!

United States 2 - Switzerland 0 :

*Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller was best player on ice for either team, and he had a remarkable tournament
*Credit U.S. goalie Ryan Miller for remaining focused even with so little work in his end; when called upon, especially early in third period of scoreless game, he came up huge for the Americans
*It flashed through my head when the U.S. lost an apparent goal with 0.0 remaining on clock in second period that Hiller and the Swiss really could steal this game, and I thought back to the 1980 upset authored by the United States over Russia; this would not have been as big an upset, but would've been close
*Often times your best player needs to step forward and win a game for you; Zach Parise did just that for the U.S., scoring twice in the third period; many would say Patrick Kane or Phil Kessel might be the best player on Team USA; in my book it's Zach Parise
*Was so impressed with the qulity chances produced by U.S. captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who worked feverishly in offensive zone all night
*Ryan Suter has really emerged into an outstanding two-way defenseman; he has elevated his game on this grand stage
*We all wondered why Chris Drury, in the midst of another down year with the Rangers, was chosen to play for Team USA; watch the tape of yesterday's game again, Drury was out there in every key situation, excelling defensively and in winning one big faceoff after another; he blocked five or six shots, plus generated some offense; he has been terrific all throughout the tournament, among the best for Team USA

Canada 7 - Russia 3 :

*Shocked; I was utterly shocked watching this game unfold, not because Canada played so well and with so much passion---I expected them to be at their best---but moreso because Russia was so far from their best and didn't adjust at all, I thought, to Canada's aggressive play; plus Russia did not meet Canada's intensity and fire on any level whatsoever
*Many people are focusing on Canada's seven goals---and rightfully so, it was an explosion of offense against an elite opponent---but what caught my attention was how well Canada played defensively; they controlled the neutral zone and manned their blueline like a fortress; it was an impressive commitment by the whole team; they generated so much offense off Russian turnovers
*Canada was a beast on the forecheck, and I loved how physical a game they played; they also sent wave after wave of forwards to the net; it had to be dizzying for the Russian defense, which certainly played as if dazed and confused
*Not a second guess, I swear: I was very surprised that Evgeni Nabokov started the second period in goal for Russia after allowing a four-spot in the first; they weren't all his fault, but it looked clear that Nabby was not on top of his game; plus it was an elimination game AND you had Ilya Bryzgalov---in the midst of a career year with Phoenix---ready to replace Nabokov; poor coaching decision
*Corey Perry sort of flys under the radar for Team Canada; nice to see him break out with two-goal game against Russia
*I know he allowed three goals, but when he had to come up big, Roberto Luongo did just that; he really took the final life out of Russians in third period when he stoned Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway, and then moments later on the doorstep
*OK, the big late-game issue that Tweeps and I debated far into the night last night: I did not have a problem with Alexander Semin's crunching hit on Dan Boyle in the final minutes, but I had a huge problem with Boyle's retaliatory slew-foot; and c'mon JR on TV constantly saying "You just don't do that to Dan Boyle...he's too much a competitor"...he slew-footed him JR! That's not being a competitor, that's being downright dirty

Finland 2 Czech Republic 0 :

*Hmmmm, how can I say this? OK, Miikka Kiprusoff, Miikka Kiprusoff, Miikka Kiprusoff...well, you get the idea; the Finnish goaltender was ridiculously outstanding---and had to be because his Czech counterpart, Tomas Vokoun, was simply terrifc yet again; I mean RIDICULOUSLY outstanding OK? I have said this for years, but when he is at his best, Kipper is the closest anyone comes to replicating Dominik Hasek with his Gumby-like saves
*If the Finns could just get their power play going, they'd have a much easier time of it; but even with their struggles on the PP, Finland is two wins from the Gold
*I'm sorry, facing one Ruutu is plenty, but having the snarling Jarrko and Tuomo in your face all night has got to be a bitch to play against
*Couldn't help but thinking when I saw Esa Tikkanen---an uber-pest, for sure, back in the day---on the TV screen that he must love the style his Finns play: nasty, gritty, in-your-face; trust me the Ruutus and their like only aspire to be like Tikk
*Great job by NBC getting the Canadian broadcast of this game; I just think Ray Ferraro is a great analyst, and he proved it when he immediately explained that Finland's first goal happened largely because Czech defenseman Pavel Kubina had to chase after his helmet---which had been knocked off---and put it on as per IIHF rules; Kubina thus was not in position to block the shot, whereas---as Ferraro pointed out---he would have been in an NHL game, which does not share this particular rule with the IIHF; great catch, and quick explanation
*Back when I first was covering hockey locker rooms, Ferraro was known as "Radio Ray" because he was always the go-to quote 
*Ferraro on Martin Havlat: "He's been a ghost throughout this tournament!" Great Stuff!
*Sad to see Jaromir Jagr go out there not nearly 100% healhty; he had very little to give the Czechs last night

Slovakia 4 - Sweden 3 :

*Fourth straight Olympics that defending champion has been eliminated in Quarterfinals
*Henrik Lundqvist establishes modern-day Olympic record for consecutive shutout minutes, then allows 2 goals in 37 seconds and four goals total as Sweden is sent home
*How about Sweden tying game with two goals of their own, also in 37-second span; and then in third period Slovakia scores and 38 seconds later Sweden nets one of their own?! Two goals in 37 seconds twice, and in 38 seconds once!! Odds on that were......
*Just when I thought I was going to write about the shame of Peter Forsberg being a shadow of his former self, he steps up big-time for Swedes
*Speaking of stepping up how about Marian Hossa's all-around effort for Slovakia, as well as Pavol Demitra's perfectly-placed---and incredibly timely---goal?
*Must admit, I kept thinking Swedes were going to come back, tie this one again, and somehow win it; that's not disrespecting Slovakia---who I believe has been vastly underrated---but more a credit to Sweden; but credit the Slovaks, they did not let it happen
*How about Jaroslav Halak proving himself big-time in nets for Slovakia? Carey Who in Montreal?
*Nice catch by cameras after game, Rangers' teammates Marian Gaborik of Slovakia and Sweden's Lundqvist in a sincere hug on the handshake line

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