ST LOUIS – The following matchups take place in the first round of elimination play on Tuesday, February 18th. Below is a preview and prediction for each of these games.
#5 vs #12 Russia vs Norway
The Russians continue to have the added pressure of being the host nation, especially since they failed to earn a bye in the first round of elimination play. They defeated Slovenia 5-2 and Slovakia 1-0 in a shootout, but lost to the United States 3-2 in a shootout. Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin lead the Russians and will need more magic to continue in the tournament. Enigma Alexander Radulov continues to cause trouble for this Russian team just as he did with the Nashville Predators. Despite being tied with 3 points for the team scoring lead with Malkin, Russia needs to find more scoring touch. Norway failed to win a game scoring just 3 goals while allowing 12. The Norwegians are just happy all teams qualify for the elimination round. Russia will advance to play Finland in what could be a breakout scoring game for the host nation.
#6 vs #11 Switzerland vs Latvia
Of any team in this first elimination round, Switzerland should scare all of the other teams in the tournament, particularly Canada who they could face in the next round. While they have only scored 2 goals , 1-0 wins against Latvia and the Czech Republic , they have only allowed one, a 1-0 loss to top seed Sweden. The tight Swiss defense is anchored by Jonas Hiller who has stopped all 47 saves in the two victories. Latvia lost all three preliminary games scoring 5 goals and allowing 10. If the Swiss can score just one goal, they will advance to face Canada. Count on his happening in what should be a fantastic game.
#7 vs #10 Czech Republic vs Slovakia
Both teams have been a disappointment, but with the arrangement on how the games play out, one of these teams will advance to face the United States. The Czech Republic lost to Sweden 4-2 in the opening game before defeating Latvia by the same score and then finally losing to the Swiss 1-0. Jaromir Jagr and Marek Zidlicky each have 2 goals on a team which has scored just 6. Slovakia started the tournament losing to the United States 7-1 and Slovenia 3-1 before playing a tight game with Russia before losing 1-0 n a shootout. Slovakia has tightened up their defense and has benched NHLers Jaroslav Halak and Peter Budaj in favor of little-known Jan Laco. This gives Slovakia new hope, but they won’t get past the Czech Republic. The United States will have their hands full with the Czechs in the next round.
#8 vs #9 Slovenia vs Austria
In what might be the two most evenly matched teams in the first elimination round, each club had one regulation win and two regulation losses in the preliminary round. Slovenia won their first-ever Olympic game by convincingly defeating Slovakia 3-1. This was sandwiched between a 5-2 loss to Russia and a 5-1 loss to the United States. Austria opened the tournament with an 8-4 loss to Finland and a 6-0 loss to Canada before defeating lowly Norway 3-1. Their improved defense gives them a chance. Michael Grabner scored two of his five goals, tops in the tournament, in the win over Norway. The Austrians have scored just 7 as a team. It really comes down to the Slovenia defense against Michael Grabner. I think Slovenia has a little more magic in their game before they face mighty Sweden.
Follow me on Twitter at @DMMORRELL