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Upsets are aplenty at these Olympics

by Mike G. Morreale
So now that the men's ice hockey tournament in the 2010 Winter Games has reached the medal round, what have we learned?

Basically that upsets, spectacular goaltending and game-changing events over the course of a 60-minute contest still reign supreme. It's what has made this international event so intriguing to even the most average fan every four years.

We've already witnessed the two goliaths of this tournament -- Russia and Canada -- knocked off their perch in the preliminary round. We've seen the new-look and top-seeded Americans -- fast, physical and five years younger per man than the 2006 team that failed to medal in Torino -- earn their first Olympic triumph over Canada in 50 years. Its reward for going unbeaten in Group A is an automatic bye into the quarterfinal round.

The Russians, throttled by Slovakia in a shootout in their second game of the tournament, rebound against rival Czech Republic in a game highlighted by a monstrous check at center ice by Russia's Alexander Ovechkin on Jaromir Jagr. The third-seeded Russians would also earn a free pass into the quarters after winning Group B.

And then there's the team no one seems to talk about, defending gold-medalist and second-seeded Sweden, which has run the table and gone unbeaten in Group C while yielding the fewest goals in the tournament (2) behind Henrik Lundqvist.

So that brings us to the play-in stage of the tournament. And, of course, all eyes will be on sixth-seeded Canada. Once expected to coast into the medal round, the host team must now win a play-in against 11th seeded Germany to even reach the quarterfinals -- where Russia will await the winner on Wednesday at Canada Hockey Place.

"(The Canadians) have to regroup," NBC hockey analyst Mike Milbury said. "This team hasn't achieved the level of performance they would want. Sidney Crosby was a marginal factor (against Team USA). I think they have to narrow their bench to the top 9-or-10 forwards and go from there. I think you're going to have to change goaltenders. They don't have enough time to see if Martin Brodeur can straighten out; he wasn't that bad but having Roberto Luongo in reserve isn't bad."

Ed Olczyk, NBC color analyst for the men's hockey tournament, is wondering what Team Canada's mental makeup will be like at the opening face-off on Tuesday.

"Now, more than anything, how do the Canadians look at it mentally?" Olczyk said. "How is this loss (against Team USA) and last two games, really, going to effect them? They just beat the Swiss, don't forget (3-2 in a shootout). To me, it's the mental approach by the players and the expectations. There is doubt in this country right now."

In addition to the Canada-Germany tilt at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Tuesday at Canada Hockey Place, No. 8 Switzerland will face No. 9 Belarus at 3 p.m. (ET) and No. 7 Slovakia meets No. 10 Norway at midnight.

Meanwhile, at UBC Thunderbird Arena on Tuesday, No. 5 Czech Republic will battle No. 12 Latvia at 10 p.m.

The quarterfinal-round on Wednesday at Canada Hockey Place will feature Team USA against the Switzerland-Belarus winner at 3 p.m and No. 4 Finland matched against the Czech Republic-Latvia Olympic Gear winner at 7:30 p.m. before Russia takes the ice against either Canada or Germany.

Finland defenseman Joni Pitkanen was ejected from his team's 3-0 loss to Sweden on Sunday after being issued a game misconduct with just 49 seconds left in the second period. Pitkanen, who checked Sweden's Patric Hornqvist in the head, will be suspended for his team's quarterfinal-round match. Sweden, incidentally, is 6-2-3 in the Olympics against Finland, which hasn't beaten its international rival since the quarterfinals of the 1998 Nagano Games.

"The Canadians have put themselves in a situation now where they're probably going to have to play the Russians in the quarterfinals," NBC hockey analyst Jeremy Roenick said. "That's the worst situation they could have because if they get knocked out in the quarters, this place is going is going to go off the charts and there will be pandemonium across Canada. That said, I still feel they have a good chance."

Sweden will meet the Slovakia-Norway winner at 10 p.m. on Wednesday at UBC Thunderbird Arena.

On Friday, the semifinal-round will be held at Canada Hockey Place at 3 and 9:30 p.m. The bronze-medal game is slated Saturday at 10 p.m. and the gold-medal game Sunday at 3:15 p.m.

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