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So now the games really start to mean something.
Win and you move on. Lose, and your gold medal chances are done.
Canada’s nail-biter of an overtime win over the Finns on Sunday means that their road to the men’s hockey gold medal game goes through five possible teams, with by far the most threatening of those the undefeated Americans.
Team Canada starts the elimination round by facing the winner of Tuesday’s Switzerland-Latvia game in Wednesday’s quarter-finals, a do-or-die game that they should win given the mismatch. But it’s also a game that won’t be overlooked by coach Mike Babcock or his players given how tight the Swiss can play and how well netminder Jonas Hiller has done so far in the tournament.
Anything can happen in a single-game elimination format and that holds here, especially against a team where almost every game is a one-goal decision.
With the bracket format used in the Olympics, however, many hockey fans are already looking forward to Canada’s potential path beyond that game, as it’s laid out pretty clearly. With no reseeding possible, Team Canada now cannot face Sweden, Russia or Finland before the gold medal final – unless it’s in a bronze medal game – leaving only the U.S. as the only true super power to go through in its next two games.
If Canada beats Switzerland (or Latvia) on Wednesday, that would very likely set up a semi-final rematch of the final in Vancouver, when Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal in overtime to beat the Americans.
That’s provided the U.S. gets past the Czechs and Slovaks, both of which have struggled in this tournament. Team USA, however, has had an outstanding run in going undefeated and posting the highest goal differential of any team (plus-11) through three games, enough to take the second seed behind Sweden.
Canada, meanwhile, has had an extremely difficult time generating offence against both Norway and Finland, which will obviously be their main concern in facing the Swiss.
But the reality is that Canada was always going to have to beat at least two very good teams in order to win this tournament. The only difference now is they have a much better idea of who those teams might be.