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Preliminary Match-up For The Ages

by Steve Goldstein / Florida Panthers

It's the one that everybody has been waiting for ever since the Olympic schedule was released: a post Valentine's Day match-up for the ages...USA vs Russia (7:30am ET on NBCSN). 

It is rumored that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be in attendance come Saturday as this game carries heavier weight than just a preliminary round hockey game. The history of the relationship between these two countries is well documented and the 1980 Miracle on Ice is still the greatest upset in sports history. 

As far as the game goes, it should be an emotionally charged Russian team. The US will need to be ready for that opening push by Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and company. That will be key. If the young American defense, which played well in the first game in a 7-1 win over Slovakia on Thursday, can keep the Russian offensive stars under control early in the game, the US will then have the opportunity to show its full compliment of skills. Forwards Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane are having super NHL seasons and seem very confident on and off the ice. The bigger ice surface plays right into their hands. Kessel had a wry smile after the opening win over Slovakia when I asked him about the extra room to maneuver. The hard nosed style of David Backes and St Louis Blues teammate TJ Oshie was a factor against the Slovakians. Dustin Brown, the LA Kings captain, and NY Rangers captain Ryan Callahan like to throw the body too. This is a team that has great skill, is tough and has defensemen that can move the puck and skate well. The USA is the complete package as a team. Of course, goaltending is always important and it will be interesting to see how the goalies handle the big moment for both sides. 

I'm personally looking forward to calling this one. It's a part of hockey history. I know many American players are relishing the chance to wear the red, white and blue jerseys and take on the Russians on Russian ice. It will quite the spectacle here in Sochi.

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