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Olympic tournament moving into knockout mode

by Dan Rosen

SOCHI -- The preliminary round is over and the field is set, meaning it's time for some knockout hockey at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

If you were engrossed in the drama of the tournament during the past five days, just wait until the games resume Tuesday with the qualification round, because now it gets interesting and now it gets real.

Either you win or you go home.

"It doesn't matter how we win," Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "It's whether we win."

Sweden, the United States, Canada and Finland won't be tested until Wednesday. Those four nations received automatic byes into the quarterfinals because of their success in the preliminary round.

The Swedes earned the No. 1 seed as the only team to win all three of its Group C games in regulation. The Americans got the No. 2 seed with eight points and a plus-11 goal-differential, two better than the third-place Canadians, who also had eight points. The Finns are fourth with seven points.

Sweden will face the winner of the qualification-round game between Austria and Slovenia. The U.S. plays the winner of the Czech Republic vs. Slovakia. Canada plays either Switzerland or Latvia. Finland likely will face Russia, unless Norway can make a miracle happen.

The semifinals are Friday, the bronze-medal game is Saturday, and the gold-medal game is Sunday.

"It will be far more intense," Lundqvist said of the tournament going forward, "but that's what we've been building towards."

If the 2010 Vancouver Olympics taught us anything it's that what happens in the preliminary round stays in the preliminary round. Enjoy it, but don't read too much into it.

Canada was in sixth place after three games four years ago because it lost four out of its possible nine points by falling to the Americans in regulation and going to the shootout against Switzerland. It didn't stop the Canadians from winning gold.

Sweden finished second in group play but seventh-place Slovakia dispatched them in a quarterfinal-round thriller.

The Russians were third after the preliminary round. Their tournament ended a few days later when Canada sent them home.

"Obviously those games always have a bit more of a different feel but you don't want to have to change the way you play a whole lot," Canada captain Sidney Crosby said. "I think we've been playing the right way here for three games. I think we've gotten better.

"It's not getting any easier, but I think we definitely just need to stick with how we're playing."

Canada's tournament actually did get slightly easier when Drew Doughty scored the overtime winner Sunday to beat Finland, 2-1. The goal meant Finland likely would have to face Russia in the quarterfinals instead of Canada.

However, all that means is Canada might have to face Switzerland in the quarterfinals. The Swiss scored two goals in their three games, but they gave up just one. They also historically have given Canada a hard time, including a win against the Canadians in the 2006 Turin Olympics and the shootout loss four years ago.

Canada has former Swiss national team coach Ralph Krueger on its coaching staff.

"They give everybody a hard time. Assuming they win," Canada defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said of the Swiss. "If you finish one through four you're going to play somebody good, you're going to have to beat somebody good."

And if you don't, you're gone.

Tournament on.


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