Everyone has his own opinion about how the Olympic hockey tournament will shake out. NHL.com’s John Dellapina, Dan Rosen and Shawn Roarke offer their opinions about who will go home happy – and who won’t.
Gold Medal game participants: Sweden vs. USA
Why: Unlike the American greatest hockey generation, which ran out of gas in Salt Lake City eight years ago without adequate reinforcements from the next generation, Sweden gets it done a second straight time because its most important player (goaltender Henrik Lundqvist) is just entering his athletic prime, greybeards such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Daniel Alfredsson and Peter Forsberg still run on much more than fumes and a couple of new superstars, Nicklas Backstrom and Henrik Sedin, are in full flower. With all due respect to Canada and Russia, no team is stronger down the middle than this one, whose national flag-bearer (Forsberg) could well play the role of third-line checking center. The Swedes also have the ability to come together quickly by playing Henrik and Daniel Sedin together up front and pairing Lidstrom and Detroit teammate Niklas Kronwall on defense. Ryan Miller steals the one game he must for Team USA in pool play, beating Canada to earn a bye into the quarters and easier route through the medal round.
Bronze Medal game participants: Canada vs. Russia
Why: Rattled by a Rivalry Sunday loss to the Americans, Canada has to play an extra game just to get into the quarterfinals. The physical demands compound the unprecedented pressure Team Canada faces from the first drop of the puck in pool play to leave this gifted group unable to overcome Sweden's precision and quick-strike capability in one semifinal. Russia succumbs yet again to Team USA in a penultimate game on North American soil as Miller does his best Jack McCartan/Jim Craig/Mike Richter impersonation. As is their custom, no longer able to win gold, the Russians manufacture little enthusiasm for winning a Bronze medal game.
-- John Dellapina
Gold medal game participants: Canada vs. Russia
Why: Depth, defense and goaltending carries Canada to top of the medal stand. Russia has arguably the best top six when you factor in Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Semin and Alexander Radulov, but Canada runs 12 deep up front and everyone can score. Canada's top two lines can compete with Russia's, but the Russians won't be able to match the Canadians' overall depth up front. Russia will also have a tough time getting through the strong Canadian defense and goaltending, while Canada won't have nearly as many problems going through Russia's defense. Canada wins because it forces Russia to play a Canadian brand of hockey.
Bronze medal game participants: Sweden vs. USA
Why: The Swedes get the nod because they have more skill and experience than the Americans and their goaltending is just as good. Ryan Miller will carry the U.S. into to the medal round, but the Americans won't be able to match up with the talent Sweden has up front with the Sedin twins, Nicklas Backstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, etc.
-- Dan Rosen
Gold Medal game participants: Finland vs. Russia
Why: For too long, goaltending has been the bugaboo of a Russian team long on skill and offensive artistry. But, that is no longer true as Evgeni Nabokov is having a Vezina Trophy-caliber season and Ilya Bryzgalov is no slouch. Confidence in goal will make the rest of this supremely talented team stand even taller Who among the other 11 other teams will have constant answers for a Russian attack that features three No. 1 lines? It says here, none. But, the Finns will give it a try. The unfancied Finns are no strangers to reaching the big stage, having reached the gold-medal game in both the 2006 Olympics and the 2004 Canada Cup. Unfortunately, the swan song for Finnish icon Teemu Selanne will end in heartbreak again. While Finland certainly has the goaltending -- perhaps the best depth of the 12 countries -- to hang with the Russians, the Finns don't have the firepower to pull away from a Russian team that not only can score in the blink of an eye, but also has been tested in winning the past two World Championships
Bronze medal game participants: Sweden vs. Canada
Why: Canada earns a medal on home soil, but definitely the wrong one. While the Canadians may have the best team and the best goalie in Martin Brodeur, no team in the history of the Olympics has ever played under the pressure that Canada will face in this tournament. There is the very real chance that it could suffocate the Canadian players, which is the kiss of death in a tournament that punishes the smallest and rarest of mistakes. Sweden valiantly tries to defend the gold it won in Turin four years ago, but just doesn't have the horses to get it done, losing in the semifinals. Somehow, the Canadians bounce back just 24 hours after a catastrophic loss of their own in the semis and find a way to at least get on the medal podium.
--Shawn P. Roarke