Sweden and the United States advanced with relative ease to Friday’s Olympic men’s ice hockey semifinals, while Canada and Finland moved on, too.
Those four teams were the top squads to emerge from preliminary play, and the seeds held up Wednesday, with the top-seeded Swedes knocking off Slovakia 5-0, the second-seeded Americans cruising past Czech Republic 5-2, third-seed Canada holding off Latvia 2-1 and No. 4-seed Finland eliminating host Russia 3-1.
Three of the four Avalanche players representing their countries in Sochi are moving on.
Matt Duchene (Canada), Paul Stastny (USA) and Gabriel Landeskog (Sweden) are all still alive in the medal chase, and either Duchene or Stastny is guaranteed a chance Sunday to play for the gold.
Landeskog and Team Sweden have yet to go past regulation in any of their four wins and look like a strong bet to advance to the title game. They’ll face Finland at 5 a.m. MT Friday (NBCSN) in the first semifinal, and Canada and Team USA will follow at 10 a.m. MT (NBCSN) in an anticipated rematch of the memorable 2010 Vancouver Winter Games’ gold medal contest.
Both semifinal games will be played at Sochi’s Bolshoy Ice Dome.
"The Olympic Games isn't supposed to be easy,” Canada coach Mike Babcock said, following his team’s dramatic win that featured 57 shots on goal from his squad against just 16 given up to Latvia. “They don't just give the medals out. You earn the medals. Now we'd like to put ourselves in a situation to compete for one, and we have another day to prepare [Thursday]."
"This tournament, when it comes down to just one game, it's tough," Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “You need everything to work for you.”
AVALANCHE PLAYER TRACKER
• Landeskog, the Avalanche’s captain and Sweden’s alternate captain, had two shots on goal Wednesday in a relatively easy win. His shots came in the second and third period as Sweden worked to turn a 1-0 lead after two periods into a comfortable margin throughout the third.
For the tournament Landeskog has one point (an assist) and is plus-one through four games and 87 shifts.
• Stastny won two of nine faceoffs and was on the ice for 10:15 of the US’s win against the Czechs. After a strong start, scoring two goals in the opener, Stastny has two points and an even rating in four games, with nine shots on goal in 67 shifts.
• Duchene (Canada) didn’t play in Wednesday’s win and has four shots overall and a plus-one rating in two games played. He was also a healthy scratch in Canada’s 3-1 opening win against Norway.
Canadian center John Tavares suffered a leg injury Wednesday, and it was announced he would miss the rest of the Olympics. That could mean more of an opportunity for Duchene to play.
Babcock has wrestled throughout the Olympics with a “In or out” lineup decision, and his choice in this situation will be closely analyzed over the next 24 hours.
Duchene is the Avalanche’s leading scorer, so he’s not used to sitting during games. He’s not letting that affect his outlook, though, in his Olympics debut, and he continues to showcase world-class sportsmanship.
He took to Twitter before Wednesday’s game.
VARLAMOV, RUSSIA BOW OUT
As hosts of the tournament, the Russians and Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov had high internal and external expectations, but they weren’t able to meet them. Varlamov was credited with the loss after allowing three goals in 15 shots, but the Russians as a whole were clearly disappointed with their offensive output over the past week.
“It sucks,” said Alex Ovechkin (Capitals). “That's all I can say.”
Russia opened with a 5-2 win against Slovenia but then scored just twice in Friday’s dramatic 3-2 shootout loss to the United States and then didn’t score at all in a 1-0 shootout win against Slovakia.
Ilya Kovalchuk (KHL) put Russia ahead 1-0 with just under eight minutes elapsed in the game, but Finland’s Juhamatti Aaltonen (KHL) evened things 87 seconds later with a tuck shot past Varlamov.
Veteran Teemu Selanne (Ducks) then put Finland on top for good with 2:22 left in the first period with a shot that didn’t actually come off his stick clean but still got through Varlamov’s legs.
Russia coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov replaced Varlamov with Sergei Bobrovsky (Bluejackets) after he surrendered the third goal a little more than five minutes into the second period, but the damage was already done against a team that surprised with its offensive struggles.
"It's difficult to explain why we didn't score," Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said. "Especially with the players who score a lot of goals for their teams; especially Alex Ovechkin, who scored over 40 goals for his team."