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Olympic Semifinal Preview

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche has representatives on two of the four teams still fighting for gold at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Paul Stastny and the United States will square off against Team Finland in semifinal action Friday, followed by Peter Budaj’s Slovakia squad going head-to-head with Canada.


United States To Face Finland
With a 4-0-0-0 record (W-OTW-OTL-L), Team USA is the only unbeaten team remaining in the men’s Olympic hockey field. Holding the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, the Americans pulled out a hard-fought victory over Switzerland during quarterfinal action on Wednesday to earn a berth in the semifinals.

In order to gain a chance to play for a gold medal, the United States will have to get past Finland (3-0-0-1). After easily taking care of Belarus and Germany to open the tournament, Finland lost to Sweden in preliminary round play by a 3-0 count. Still, the Finns gained the fourth and final bye into the quarterfinals on the strength of their preliminary round record. The club then blanked the Czech Republic, 2-0, on Wednesday to advance to the semifinals.

USA/Finland History: The United States and Finland have met 11 times at the Olympics dating back to the 1952 Games in Oslo, Norway, with Team USA holding a 6-3-2 (W-L-T) advantage in the series.

The last matchup between the two countries at the Olympic Winter Games came in 2006, when Finland topped the United States by a 4-3 score during the quarterfinal round in Torino, Italy.

Puck drop is set for 1:00 p.m. MT this afternoon on NBC. Click here for a full preview from NHL.com.

Stastny’s Stats: The Avalanche assistant captain has one point through four games to go along with a +2 plus/minus rating. That point was an assist, which came on Zach Parise’s eventual game-winning goal during Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Switzerland.

Bottom Line: At this point, with the success they’ve seen so far in the tournament, anything less than a spot in the gold-medal game would probably be a disappointment for the Americans.

Slovakia Takes On Canada
Slovakia is riding high following its upset over defending Olympic gold medalist Sweden on Wednesday night. Slovakia (3-1-0-1) has been one of the biggest stories in Vancouver. After opening the tournament with a loss to the Czech Republic, the club has run off consecutive victories over Russia, Latvia, Norway and Sweden.

Now, they have to face off against a Canadian club on a mission. Since losing to the United States in the preliminary round, Canada has beaten Germany and Russia by a combined 15-5 score. Puck drop for the Slovakia/Canada matchup is set for 7:30 p.m. MT tonight on CNBC. Click here for a full game preview from NHL.com.

Tournament of Firsts: The victory over Sweden gave Slovakia its first berth in the semifinal round at the Olympics, offering the country its first chance to win a medal at the Olympic Games. The Slovaks finished in fifth place four years ago in Torino after being eliminated by the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. While Slovakia has never won an Olympic medal, it has won three medals at the IIHF World Championship – gold in 2002, silver in 2000 and bronze in 2003.

Budaj’s Stats: Budaj has dressed in all fives games for Slovakia, but is yet to see game action.

Bottom Line: Don’t think the Slovaks are carrying a “just happy to be here” attitude into Wednesday’s semifinal matchup. But after beating a pair of powerhouses in Russia and Sweden, does the club have enough left in the tank for another upset?
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