Team USA could not be sitting prettier in medal picture
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Russia goaltender Sergei Bobrovski stops a breakaway from USA forward Patrick Kane in overtime of a men’s ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.
We’re through the preliminary round of the men’s Olympic hockey tournament — and the United States couldn’t be in much better shape.
The Americans are seeded second behind Sweden with an automatic bye into the quarterfinal round after winning their group. On Wednesday, they will play the winner of Tuesday’s game between Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
The U.S. has gotten great goaltending from Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller, timely scoring, the inexperienced defense has passed every test and the rugged forwards are playing big.
“They are a medal contender for sure for me,” Slovenia coach Matjaz Kopitar said after Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the Americans.
“I think as a group we have that hunger to win,” U.S. captain Zach Parise said.
The Americans and third-seeded Canada are on a collision course to meet in the semifinals instead of the finals.
“This is a chance for us to have a moment, this generation of players,” U.S. forward David Backes said. “We feel like we have an opportunity to do something special here.”
Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks has been OK so far with 3 assists in the first three games playing on a line with Ryan Kesler and Dustin Brown. Kane has been dazzling at times on the big ice and ordinary at other times. He had a chance to be the hero in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Russia but missed on a breakaway in overtime.
Kane still made a sweetheart of a pass to Joe Pavelski on the second goal by the U.S. that provided a 2-1 lead.
It’s funny to think of Kane playing with Kesler since the Hawks and Canucks are such bitter rivals, but in the Olympics you put aside personal feelings.
That’s what Kesler and Brown did, considering that two weeks ago they dropped the gloves and fought each other in a game between the Kings and Canucks.
“We hugged it out,” Brown said when asked how he could stand playing with Kesler.
U.S. coach Dan Bylsma was worried about Sunday’s game against Slovenia after Saturday’s emotional shootout victory over Russia when T.J. Oshie went 4 of 6 and stole the show.
If people didn’t know how good Oshie is in shootouts, they do now.
“I was certainly concerned after the emotional game,” Bylsma said. “We were fortunate we got out of the gate right.
“This is a hardworking team that has some grit and determination.”
Oshie was happy to see Phil Kessel get a hat trick in Sunday’s win to get the spotlight off Oshie.
“I was saying right before the game, I hope somebody does something pretty cool, so that some of the focus gets off of me and onto someone else,” Oshie said. “He didn’t need 6 shots in the shootout to do it. He did it in regular time.”
Meanwhile, Canada still is trying to figure things out. The Canadians had to survive Finland on Sunday, which they did 2-1 in overtime on Drew Doughty’s goal.
Doughty has 4 of Canada’s 11 goals for the tournament and has been the Canadians’ best player by far.
Sidney Crosby has struggled in the first three games with just 2 assists and is having trouble getting comfortable with his wingers. On Sunday, Crosby skated with Jamie Benn and Patrice Bergeron, the Boston Bruins’ center.
Getting Crosby untracked and going is certainly one of the biggest issues for Canada coach Mike Babcock heading into the quarterfinals. Maybe Patrick Sharp is the answer. Sharp was a healthy scratch Saturday against Austria but was back in the lineup Sunday.
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