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Medal-round matchups set at World Championships

Wednesday, 05.19.2010 / 10:29 AM / Across the Pond

By Bill Meltzer - NHL.com Correspondent

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Medal-round matchups set at World Championships
Medal-round play begins Thursday at the World Championships, with Russia remaining the favorite to win the tournament.
After nearly two weeks of competition, the 2010 IIHF World Championships are getting down to the nitty-gritty. The medal-round quarterfinals start Thursday with six regular medal-round contenders and two surprise entries in the running. The single-elimination matchups in the quarters will pit two-time defending gold medalist Russia (the tourney's only undefeated squad) against Canada; Sweden against underdog Scandinavian neighbor Denmark; Finland against the Czech Republic; and Switzerland against tournament-host Germany.

Power-packed Russia entered the tournament as the odds-on favorite to repeat as gold medalists. Over the course of the tournament, the roster has gotten even more formidable following the eliminations of the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As a result of their NHL seasons ending, Evgeni Malkin (2 goals, 4 points in two games) and Pavel Datsyuk (3 goals, 4 points in four games) were able to join countrymen Alex Ovechkin (5 goals, 6 points in six games), Ilya Kovalchuk (2 goals, 7 points in six games), Alexander Semin (1 goal, 5 points in six games), Maxim Afinogenov (2 goals, 6 points in six games), Nikolai Kulemin (3 goals, 5 points in six games) and longtime NHL star Sergei Fedorov (1 goal, 5 points in six games).

In goal, Washington's Semyon Varlamov has gotten three starts, while Vasili Koshkechkin has gotten the nod in two games and Alexander Eremenko in one. No matter who has started, he has gotten plenty of support. For the tournament, Russia has scored 30 goals while only allowing eight.

In contrast to Russia, Canada lacks many of its big guns due to the ongoing Stanley Cup Playoffs and prominent available players, including Sidney Crosby, declining invitations to represent their country in Germany. Canada's hopes suffered another setback when Steven Stamkos (2 goals, 3 points in four games) sustained a mild concussion as a result of an elbow by defenseman Timo Helbling in Canada's 4-1 loss to Switzerland. The team also has missed the leadership of captain Ryan Smyth, who was limited to one game before suffering an ankle fracture.

Overall, the Canadians have won three and lost three heading into their medal-round clash with Russia.

In the absence of Stamkos, the offensive leaders for Canada have been veteran Ray Whitney (2 goals, 8 points in six games), youngsters John Tavares (6 goals), Matt Duchene (3 goals, 6 points) and Jordan Eberle (1 goal, 3 assists in four games), and defenseman Marc Giordano (3 goals). Starting goaltender Chris Mason (2.54 GAA, .904 save percentage) has played adequately so far, but will need a big effort to beat Russia.

Much like Canada, Sweden has had to make due with something less than its A-roster. But outgoing coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson has gotten the most he can out of his team, winning five games with only a single loss, to the Czech Republic, through preliminary and qualification play. The team's youth has been a tremendous asset so far. The presence of Victor Hedman (1 goal, 2 points, plus-4 rating) has helped the defense, while Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson (4 goals, 8 points) has been a force offensively. Top Florida Panthers prospect Jacob Markstrom (1.33 GAA, .944 save percentage, one shutout in three starts) has been tremendous, splitting games with Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson (1.67 GAA, .954 save percentage in three starts). The team also has received significant contributions from 23-year-old Johan Harju (3 goals) and veterans Tony Martensson (2 goals, 4 points), Jonas Andersson (3 goals) and injured Mattias Weinhandl (3 goals in two games).

Sweden will be prohibitive favorites against Denmark Thursday, but it would be a serious mistake for Tre Kronor to assume their neighbors to the south just will roll over for them. Denmark earned its way to the medal round by upsetting Finland and Team USA in the preliminary round, and followed that with a victory against Slovakia in the qualification phase.

Denmark has played a team-oriented game, receiving contributions from around the lineup, including four goals from the defense (2 goals apiece from Philip Larsen and Stefan Lassen). Up front, the most dangerous skaters have been NHL players Peter Regin (2 goals, 7 points), Lars Eller (2 goals, 4 points) and Frans Nielsen (2 goals, 4 points).  The team generally has done a good job protecting its goaltenders, and Patrick Galbraith (1.50 GAA in four starts, .947 save percentage, a shutout against Finland) has made some big saves in contests where the team has been outshot and out-chanced.

Finland's skeleton crew has struggled for offense at times, but has come together defensively as the tournament has progressed to win four of six games heading into the medal round.

Goaltending usually is one of Finland's strengths, and that has been the case once again, with Pekka Rinne (1.67 GAA, .921 save percentage, one shutout) and Petri Vehanen (2.33 GAA, .917 save percentage, one shutout) performing well in three starts apiece. Offensively, Jarkko Immonen (3 goals), Jussi Jokinen (2 goals) and Petri Kontiola (2 goals) are the only players who have tallied multiple goals heading into the medal round, but veteran offensive defenseman Petteri Nummelin (5 assists, 6 points, plus-4 rating) has been dangerous from the point.

Finland's opponent in the quarters, the Czech Republic, isn't exactly icing one of its all-time best rosters, either, but they've won four of six games to date. Early in the tournament, Jaromir Jagr (3 goals, 3 assists) seemed to have turned back the clock a few years, while Jiri Novotny (5 assists, 6 points) and Tomas Rolinek (3 goals) also have provided an offensive spark for the team. Lukas Kaspar (2 goals) and former Philadelphia Flyers center Petr Hubacek have added some depth with 2 goals apiece.

But the team's biggest star, not surprisingly, has been goaltender Tomas Vokoun. The Florida Panthers' netminder has given the club a chance to win in his five starts, holding opponents to 1.81 goals per game and stopping pucks at a .933 clip.

In recent years, Switzerland has begun knocking on the door of becoming a medal contender. By now, the Swiss are regulars in the medal round of the World Championships and have been pleasant surprises at the last two Olympics. Goaltending and team defense usually are Switzerland's biggest assets, and that has been the case once again in Germany. Martin Gerber (1.50 GAA, .928 save percentage, one shutout) has backstopped Switzerland to three of its four victories in the tournament. The team's offensive leaders have been forwards Martin Pluss (4 goals, 6 points), Andreas Ambuhl (4 goals, 6 points) and Damien Brunner (4 assists, 5 points). On the blueline, youngster Roman Josi (3 points, plus-3) has played like a veteran.

After a disappointing Olympic tournament, Germany vowed to do better at the Worlds in front of their home fans. Coach Uwe Krupp's team has lived up to its promise, regardless of what happens in the medal round against favored Switzerland. Germany opened the tourney with a landmark overtime victory against Team USA in front of a record crowd and subsequently went on to beat Denmark and Slovakia. Germany also hung tough in their game against Russia, losing 3-2. Germany lacks high-end scoring threats, so the team has had to get contributions from various spots around the lineup. Felix Schutz (2 goals, 1 assist), Alexander Barta (2 goals, 1 assist), Daniel Kreutzer (1 goal, 2 assists) and Sven Felski (3 assists) are tied for the team scoring lead. In goal, Dennis Endras has won three of his four starts, posting a 1.22 GAA and .950 save percentage.
Quote of the Day

I'm just excited about the opportunity. I've been on the ice earlier than usual and in the weight room, pushing around a little more weights than usual. Every day I go into a workout with a smile on my face and ready to go. When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.

— Brian Elliott to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch on being the Blues' No. 1 goalie