Olympic Hockey Recap: USA, Finland, Canada Secure Quarterfinal Berths

KesselThe men’s hockey tournament at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi provided fans with great performances on the final day of the preliminary round.

The United States made another statement with a 5-1 victory over Slovenia to win Group A. Phil Kessel led the way for the Americans with a hat trick, and center Joe Pavelski continued to shine as a playmaker with two assists. Ryan Miller made his first appearance in net and was exceptional, finishing with 17 saves on 18 shots.

The other marquee matchup Sunday was Canada-Finland. The Canadians took a first-period lead when defenseman Drew Doughty scored the team’s first power-play goal of the preliminary round. Tuomo Ruutu equalized for Finland with a beautiful deflection late in the second period, and after a scoreless third period, Canada won 2-1 in overtime when Doughty scored again. Carey Price was excellent in net and made 14 saves on 15 shots. He’s now 2-0 in Sochi and the likely starter for Canada in the quarterfinals.

Russia needed a shootout to beat a lackluster Slovakia team 1-0. Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov scored in the shootout for the host nation, and goaltender Semyon Varlamov gave an impressive 27-save performance in a shutout.

Austria avoided a difficult qualification round matchup with a 3-1 victory over Norway. Michael Grabner scored twice for the victors and now ranks second among all players with six points and first in goals with five.

Top Performers

Drew Doughty, Defenseman, Canada

Doughty was everywhere in Canada’s win over Finland. The veteran defenseman was aggressive offensively by jumping into the play as much as possible, and his four shots on goal led the team. Doughty opened the scoring with a beautiful power-play goal on Finnish netminder Tuukka Rask from the right faceoff circle, then scored the game-winner in overtime.

Doughty also played against Finland’s top line and displayed phenomenal defense by winning puck battles, breaking up passes with his stick and clearing traffic from the front of the net. He logged 19:33 of ice time — fourth-most on the team.

Phil Kessel, Forward, United States

The Toronto Maple Leafs winger scored Team USA’s first three goals against Slovakia and increased his Olympic-leading scoring total to seven points. Kessel’s speed and acceleration were too much for the slow Slovenian defensemen, who failed to take away the American’s time and space in the attacking zone. His first two goals were scored in just 50 seconds of ice time.

Where is Kessel drawing inspiration from? Linemate James Van Riemsdyk provided an answer:

Most Disappointing Players

Sidney Crosby, Forward, Canada

The NHL’s leading scorer has two points (both assists) in three games, and he’s not creating the normal amount of scoring chances we expect each game. Canadian head coach Mike Babcock has tried several different wingers on Crosby’s line, but the team captain has struggled with all of them. Patrice Bergeron and Jamie Benn played alongside Crosby on Sunday against Finland, and the trio failed to make an impact.

If Canada is going to defend its gold medal against a much deeper and more talented field than it faced at the 2010 Vancouver Games, it needs consistent scoring production from Crosby. His struggles are hurting Canada at even strength and on the power play.

Lars Haugen, Goaltender, Norway

Haugen started all three of Norway’s games and compiled an 0-3 record and 12 goals against — the second-highest among all goaltenders. He struggled again Sunday when Austria defeated Norway 3-1. Haugen stopped just 24 of the 27 shots he faced.

Best Highlights

Phil Kessel’s first goal was a thing of beauty.

Drew Doughty’s second goal was the difference.

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Updated Bracket

Here is the Olympic bracket for the qualification round. The top four seeds — Sweden, the United States, Canada and Finland — secured a bye to the quarterfinals.

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Photo via Twitter.com/mirtle

What’s Next?

The preliminary round of the men’s hockey tournament is over, which means the real fun is about to begin.

The journey toward the medal stand begins Tuesday when the qualification round is played. The quarterfinals are Wednesday. The actual schedule for these days has not been released yet. The Olympic playoff bracket uses a single-elimination format.

Photo via Twitter.com/RantSports

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