The World Cup of Hockey has provided fans with excellent entertainment value through the preliminary round, despite its reputation as an NHL cash grab. Round-robin play began with eight teams competing: Pool A featured Canada, USA, Czech Republic, and Team Europe; Pool B was comprised of Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Team North America. There were some disappointments along the way. The US went 0-3 and failed to qualify for the semi-finals. Finland also went winless, falling back to earth after an energetic Finnish team won the World Junior Championships earlier this year. Now, the top two teams from each pool advance and we breakdown the matchups ahead of elimination action this weekend.
Canada (Pool A winner) vs. Russia (Pool B runner-up)
Russia’s lack of defensive depth will be their undoing against Canada; the Canadian offence is too well-balanced and aggressive for the sub-par Russian blueline corps. Team Russia, led by Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Ovechkin, claims an offensive depth that can rival Canada’s; however, outside of defenders Dmitry Orlov and Nikita Zaitsev, the Russians lack a true game-breaker from the blueline.
Canada remains the greatest hockey power and is stacked at every position, with Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Matt Duchene leading the charge offensively. Despite Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky’s incredible play throughout this tournament, it doesn’t seem likely that he will be able to steal a game from the powerful Canadians. Canada outscored their opponents 14-3 through the preliminary round, while the Russians salvaged a positive 8-5 differential courtesy of their 3-0 win over a weak Finnish team in their final game.
After beating the Americans 4-2 in a dominating round-robin game performance, Canadian Head Coach Mike Babcock said, “We weren’t as good as we’re capable of being tonight."
If accurate, that’s a scary reality for Canada’s opponents.
Prediction: Canada over Russia, 5-2.
Sweden (Pool B winner) vs. Team Europe (Pool A runner-up)
Sweden's defensive play and mobility from the blueline should give them a slight edge over Team Europe in this matchup. The Swedes’ first game of the World Cup was a 2-1 victory over Russia that should not have been so close, as their transition game and defensive play kept them in control of the puck. They boast the second best defensive corps in the tournament after Canada. Their defensemen have shown a propensity for jumping up in the play and creating offence, as big 6’7’’ defenceman Victor Hedman did when he came in off the point to score the game winner against Russia earlier in the tournament.
Team Europe has been the underdog story of the tournament. A veteran team many pundits picked to finish last, they beat the USA 3-0 in their opener, before beating the Czechs in overtime to lock up the number-two spot in Pool A. Even though Europe has emerged as a contender with an experienced squad, they lack the mobile, elite, puck-moving blueline that they would need to defeat the Swedes.
Although Sweden lost 6-2 to Europe in pre-tournament play, Henrik Lundqvist had one of his worst career games in his country’s colours. Expect him to perform much better in a game of this magnitude and the Swedes to come out looking for blood.
Prediction: Sweden over Team Europe, 4-3 in OT.