Team Canada survives, setting up Vancouver 2010 rematch
That collective sigh of relief you heard Wednesday was our neighbors from the north, exhaling after they nearly found themselves on the wrong side of a sequel to the "Miracle on Ice." It was yet another reminder that teams with big hearts and bigger goaltending can win any game, any time.
Yes, the game was a territorial mismatch, but Kristers Gudlevskis was the great equalizer. And past the midway point of the third period, it appeared as though the Latvians would truly rock the hockey world, but Carey Price bolted out of his net to thwart a one-timer from the slot, and the score remained 1-1.
Because he made only 15 saves in the game, Price didn't get a ton of accolades for the win. But make no mistake, it's extremely difficult to maintain the focus he showed when you go several minutes at a time without seeing shots. Price was impressive.
Gudlevskis, though, was brilliant. It was an epic goaltending performance by a 21-year-old kid who, ironically, was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning and GM Steve Yzerman. You can imagine what Yzerman, who of course is also Team Canada's GM, was thinking during that game. Yes, we made a great decision drafting this kid - no, I didn't expect him to push my Olympic team to the brink of arguably the biggest upset in Canadian hockey history.
Thanks to Shea Weber, the upset was avoided, and now we have the rematch of Vancouver 2010. If the Canadians are going to advance to the Gold Medal game Sunday, they'll have to do it without John Tavares, who was injured on a hit by Latvia's Arturs Kulda and will need knee surgery. Not only is he out for the rest of the Olympics - he'll miss the rest of the 2013-14 NHL season. Don't ask New York Islanders owner Charles Wang what he thinks of NHL participation in the Olympics anytime in the near future.
But back to Friday's game. I think Team USA has shown more offensive chemistry in Sochi. The Canadians, much like the Russians, have struggled mightily to put the puck in the net, despite the bevy of superstars on both teams. Team Canada definitely hasn't jelled yet, and they need to figure it out in a hurry.
My expectations are that Carey Price will have a monster game against the high-powered Americans, but Team USA will prevail by a goal -- say 3-2 -- to avenge the OT final in Vancouver four years ago.
As for the other semifinal game, how impressive has Team Finland been, especially with all the injuries the team has faced up the middle? Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen serves as the asst. GM for the Finns, and he has to be thrilled at how quickly that team has come together in Sochi. With a relentless defensive style, opportunistic offense, and superb goaltending, Finland has a great chance to be standing highest on the podium Sunday.
The blueprint for Team Finland seems very similar to the one being followed in Columbus: Build a team with quality depth, filling the roster with players pulling in the same direction, make sure your goaltender gives you a chance to win every night, then strengthen the roster carefully, methodically, until it becomes a perennial contender to stand highest on the NHL podium.
Speaking of the Blue Jackets, it's great that Marian Gaborik is practicing with no limitations. He apparently has done everything right in rehabbing the broken collarbone and remains the intriguing variable as Columbus tries to work its way to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. We have yet to see the best of Gaborik. What great timing it would be if the prolific goal scorer helps drive the Blue Jackets into the postseason.