By Brian Hunter | NHL.com
CANADA vs. UNITED STATES
When: Friday, Noon ET (NBCSN, CBC)
Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome
What's at stake: Unlike the 2010 Vancouver Olympics or the games in Salt Lake City eight years earlier, no gold medal will be awarded to the winner Friday between the United States and Canada. The victor will still have one more hill to climb, advancing to the gold-medal game of the 2014 Sochi Olympics on Sunday. The losing country will be faced with the scenario of leaving Russia with bronze at best, and perhaps nothing at all.
Canada: This was always going to be the game where we found out what this Canadian team is truly made of, but it's been made all the more intriguing by the defending champs' difficulties in pulling away from countries like Norway during group play and, most recently, Latvia in the quarterfinals. To be fair, Canada put on a shooting gallery in the latter game and could easily have won by half a dozen if not for the brilliance in net by Latvia, but it took a late power-play goal by Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber to pull out a too-close-for-comfort 2-1 win and avoid a shocking upset.
Canada lost a key forward during the game Wednesday in New York Islanders center John Tavares, who is out for the season with a knee injury. That means Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene slots back in between Rick Nash of the New York Rangers and Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks on a fourth line that has been one of Canada's best. Weber and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty have spearheaded the offense to this point from the blue line; seven of the Canadians' 13 goals have come from defensemen.
"Obviously, we play against them in North America, so we're familiar with those guys," Weber told the IIHF website about the Americans. "It’s going to be a great game. They've played a great Olympic tournament so far, and it's going to be exciting."
United States: Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick started three of the Americans' first four games in this tournament, so there was little surprise Thursday when the official announcement was made that Quick will start against Canada and Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price. The starters from the 2010 gold-medal game, the Buffalo Sabres' Ryan Miller for the U.S. and the Vancouver Canucks' Roberto Luongo for Canada, will be backups this time.
The U.S. has averaged nearly five goals per game to this point (19 non-shootout goals, or 4.75 per game), but will face its toughest test in a Canadian defense that can protect in its own end as well as step up in the offense to score goals. The Americans have only trailed once in Sochi, by a goal for a brief time in the second period against Russia, and it would behoove them to score first against the Canadians instead of having to play from behind as they did in Vancouver.
"I mean it's a nice chance for some redemption," said Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise, who scored the last-minute goal to force overtime in 2010. "It's not going to be an easy game, we know how good they are. The game when these two teams meet, it brings out the best in everyone and it always makes for a good game. We know how hard it's going to be. We have to make sure we're ready to play."
What's next: Five hours before this game is scheduled to face off, Sweden plays Finland in the other semifinal (7 a.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN). The winners of the two games play Sunday for gold; the losers Saturday for bronze.
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