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updated: 2/16/2014 7:00 PM

Will it be USA-Russia rematch for gold?

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  • Team USA forwards Patrick Kane, left, and Zach Parise team up on Slovenia's Jan Urbas during Sunday's 5-1 victory for the Americans to close their preliminary-round games. Team USA advances to the elimination round as the No. 2 seed behind Sweden.

    Team USA forwards Patrick Kane, left, and Zach Parise team up on Slovenia's Jan Urbas during Sunday's 5-1 victory for the Americans to close their preliminary-round games. Team USA advances to the elimination round as the No. 2 seed behind Sweden.
    Associated Press


With the preliminaries over and the elimination round about to begin, the Olympic hockey tournament is taking shape, and one certainty now is the U.S. and Canada won't play for the gold medal again.

There could, however, be a U.S.-Russia rematch for the top spot on the medal stand.

In the quarters, No. 1 seed Sweden will get the winner of Slovenia-Austria on Tuesday, and that's a free pass to the semifinals.

No. 2 seed USA gets the winner of a former country split in two, the Czechs and Slovaks. That should also be an entry into the semis for the U.S.

No. 3 seed Canada will face the winner of the Swiss vs. Latvia, and the way Jonas Hiller is playing, that's certain to be the Swiss and will make for a very uncomfortable day for Canada in the quarters.

Still, you have to think at some point here that Canada will get it together and the Swiss just aren't deep enough to think they can beat the Canadians.

Finland, the fourth seed, has to face the winner of Russia and Norway, which, of course, will be Russia. The Russians obviously suffered a letdown Sunday in a shootout victory over Slovakia after that very emotional game with the U.S. on Saturday.

It's an extra game for Russia, but it may be just what the doctor ordered. They should beat a very physical and disciplined Finland team and also reach the final four, though the game with Finland is hardly a cakewalk.

That would pit Sweden against Russia and the U.S. vs. Canada for a chance to reach the gold-medal game.

Russia has, at times, played harder and with more emotion than any team in the tourney, which you would expect playing in front of the home crowd. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is playing great, but the Swedes are banged up and have had the easiest draw thus far.

The Russians want this in a big way and played very well against the U.S., a game they deserved to win and one in which they were clearly the better team. Look for them to get past Sweden and into the gold-medal game.

While the Russians were fortunate to avoid the U.S. or Canada in the semis, it's now looks like the gold-medal game of four years ago will take place a round too early for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was hoping for another North American final.

Canada has not yet played a 60-minute game. Their chemistry is nonexistent. Their offense is woeful, and the defense has carried them. Sidney Crosby can't find space and is frustrated. Teams are sitting back and forcing turnovers. Canada is playing without energy and emotion.

Stop me if you've heard this before.

Team Canada didn't play a great game until the quarters in 2010 when they pounded Russia 7-3 on home ice in Vancouver, and from there they edged Slovakia to reach the final, where Crosby pushed Canada past Team USA in overtime.

People were saying then what they're saying now, that Canada isn't playing well. They are better than any team on paper, and if they can flip the switch this week, the U.S.-Canada semifinal game will be a fabulous match.

"I tell people all the time. It's such a fine line (between winning and losing)," said Canada coach Mike Babcock. "(To win it all four years ago), we had to beat the Swiss in a shootout. (Roberto) Luongo made a save lying on his back against the Slovaks to keep the game going. We had to beat the U.S. in overtime.

"It's a fine line. It's a fine, fine line. But we're excited about the opportunity and that it is a fine line. If it was easy, it wouldn't be near as much fun."

At the moment, the U.S. is playing much better than Canada. The group is faster than Canada and the Americans are playing with great confidence and energy. Jonathan Quick is on fire and the U.S. has been more engaged, shift to shift, than the Canadians.

So right now it sure feels like a U.S.-Russia rematch for the gold medal, but there is much hockey to be played this week before the Friday semis.

As is always the case in a world tournament, the top prize is there for Canada's taking. They always have the best team and they always have the best chance to win.

What remains to be seen is whether they will flip the switch. Thus far, it hasn't happened.

And they are running short of time.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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