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Canada-Russia Matchup Looms As Medal Round Begins

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
Crosby vs. Malkin.

Crosby vs. Ovechkin.

Canada vs. Russia.

This was the matchup everyone wanted to see leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. However, barring an upset of epic proportions (think Lake Placid, 1980), this star-studded affair will take place a little earlier than anyone expected.

The United States’ dramatic 5-3 upset victory over the Canadians on Sunday night at Hockey Canada Place gave the upstart Americans the top seed in the tournament heading into the medal round. Canada, who entered as co-favorites for the gold medal along with the Russians, has to take the long way to the championship game beginning with a qualification round meeting with Germany on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

As much as the Canadians have struggled since an 8-0 victory over Norway to begin the tournament, they should have little trouble getting past a winless German squad.

If the Canadians successfully navigate through the first round, they will find a Russian squad, which appeared to gain some much-needed chemistry during a 4-2 defeat of the Czech Republic on Sunday, standing in their way.

While the stakes won’t be as high as everyone envisioned prior to the Olympics, anytime Canada and Russia or Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin lace the skates on the same ice surface, the results are usually memorable. It should be more of the same on Wednesday if these two combatants do battle knowing the loser walks away without a medal – something that won’t fly in either hockey-mad country.

Although the gold medal won’t be on the line, the atmosphere in the building should make for a championship environment. Crosby and Ovechkin alone would assure as much. The game time would be set in prime time at 7:30 p.m., so the entire world will have their eyes on a contest which will also feature supreme talents such as the Penguins Evgeni Malkin, Canada’s Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley and Russia’s Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk.

Russia, who won Pool B, enters the medal round ranked third overall behind the United States and Sweden, which won Pools A and C respectively. Despite a 3-0 setback to the Swedes on Sunday, Finland draws the fourth bye.

Besides Canada-Germany, other qualification round matchups on Tuesday include Switzerland-Belarus at 3 p.m.; Czech Republic-Latvia at 10 p.m.; and Slovakia-Norway at 11:55 p.m.

The top-seeded Americans, featuring Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, who ranks among the tournament leaders with a plus-3 rating, return to action at 3 p.m. on Wednesday when they take on the winner of the Switzerland-Belarus contest.

If U.S. were to face the Swiss, it would serve as a rematch thanks to the Americans’ 3-1 besting of the Swiss on Feb. 16.

An American victory on Wednesday would set them up to face one of three teams, Finland, the Czech Republic or Latvia, with a berth in the Gold Medal Game at stake. The United States’ most recent championship game appearance came at Salt Lake City in 2002 when they lost to a Mario Lemieux-led Canadian team, 5-2.

Before the Canadians can think ahead to a showdown with Russia on Wednesday, they need to take care of a couple important issues against Germany on Tuesday.

Most importantly, they have to decide whether they are going to stick with Martin Brodeur between the pipes, or make a switch to either Roberto Luongo or the Penguins Marc-Andre Fleury. Brodeur was shaky at best against the Americans, while Luongo shut out Norway on Feb. 16 and Fleury is the defending Stanley Cup champion netminder.

The Canadians probably want to find a third line which can dominate puck possession in the offensive zone and chip in from time to time beyond Crosby’s unit and the San Jose trio of Thornton, Heatley and Patrick Marleau.

Canada will need all the offense they can muster against the Russians, who looked like a gold-medal contender with Malkin and Ovechkin joining forces on the same line.

Malkin (3G-2A), who is tied with Crosby (2G-3A) among others with five points through three games, is coming off a two-goal, one-assist performance against the Czechs on Sunday.

Make sure to check Penguins Olympic Central all week long for tournament features, scores and statistics as the 2010 Games crescendo towards Sunday’s Gold Medal Game.

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