Olympic Hockey Breakdown: Playoff Rounds
The Olympics are finally here, which means that it’s time for Olympic hockey. In this four article series, Anthony Pucik breaks down each Group in the tournament, as well as predicts who will earn the gold in Sochi. In this fourth and final article, the playoff round will be broken down. Who wins, who loses and who gets the medals.
Now that group stages have been predicted and calculated, it’s time to seed each team for the playoff rounds of the Sochi Olympics. The top team in each group will get a bye, and then the next highest point getting second place team earns the fourth and final bye. The rest of the teams will be ordered by place in their respective group and points, and then goal differential if necessary.
Since Russia, Canada and Sweden swept their group stages respectively in my earlier projections, they all end up getting byes in the first round. Since all of them end up with the same amount of points, their seed is decided by goal differential. Since Canada was in the easiest group, they will most likely have the best goal differential, giving them the first seed. After that, Sweden because they were in the middle group as far as difficulty, then Russia for being in the group of death which will most likely have them playing very close games and keeping their goal differential close to even.
The four second place teams vying for the last bye are the US, Finland and Switzerland. All the teams have six points, but I think the U.S. will get the bye on goal differential because they stack up against Russia in Group A better than Finland does with Canada in Group B and Switzerland with Sweden in Group C, giving them worse goal differentials. With the US taking the fourth and final bye, Finland's six points will be greater than Switzerland's five, earning them the fifth and sixth seeds respectively.
Seeds seven through nine encompass the third place teams in each group: Slovakia in Group A, Austria in Group B and the Czech Republic in Group C. The Czech Republic are the only team with four points, so they will get the seven seed outright, and Slovakia will get the eight seed with Austria getting the ninth based on goal differential. The last three seeds will be taken by the last place teams in each group: Slovenia (A), Norway (B) and Latvia (C). With all teams scoring zero points, it will come down to goal differential. Slovenia, despite being in the group of death, is the more experienced team and will keep their games close than Norway and Latvia and earn them the ten seed. After that, it comes down to Norway and Latvia. As I said in my third article, Latvia is the weakest team at Sochi. They will have the worst goal differential, earning them the last seed and giving Norway the eleventh.
Knock Out Round
Now that the seeding is done, the lower seeds will play one another. The matchups are five vs twelve, six vs eleven, seven vs ten and eight vs nine. In the five vs twelve matchup, the great goaltending of Finland will have no problem handling Latvia, earning them the victory. When six seed Switzerland battles the eleven seed Norwegians, Hiller and Brunner will be enough to best Zuccarello and company; Switzerland wins. When Czech Republic and Slovenia battle in the seven versus ten matchup, the more skilled Czech offense will best the Slovenians, giving them the victory. And in the middle matchup, eight versus nine, the Slovakian offense will get the better of the inexperience Austrian goaltenders, earning them the victory.
After all these games, the quarterfinal matchups are as follows: Canada vs Slovakia, Sweden vs Czech Republic, Russia vs Switzerland and the USA vs Finland. The four teams with byes earned them for a reason, they are the four best teams heading into Olympic play. First seeded Canada will have no problem handling number eight Slovakia, the Swedes will handle the Czechs much like they did in the group stages, the Russians will best the Swiss and the United States will top Finland. This is where the depth of teams are really going to come into play. Canada, Sweden, Russia and the United States are simply top to bottom better teams than Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Finland. While the latter teams were able to stake by in the quarterfinal rounds, their weakness will be exploited when they face the four teams that earned byes, and it will make it very difficult for any of them to advance.
These quarterfinal decisions bring us to the semifinals, easily the most exciting and thrilling games of these Olypmics, where the United States will battle Canada in a gold medal rematch from Vancouver and Sweden will battle home country Russia. Many could see these teams battling one another for the gold, but they instead they find themselves battling each other to get there. Both matchups will be great, but there can only be two teams who battle for the gold. I think that Canada’s team is just too good to be defeated by the United States. They have threats to score with nearly every line and defensive pair that they have along with incredible goaltending to compliment that. While the US will keep it close with good goaltending, the inability of the bottom lines to produce like the Canadians will hurt them, and team Canada will defeat them once again. As for Sweden and Russia, despite being home the Russians do not have as complete a team as Sweden does. The Swedes will be able to expose the defensive holes the Russians have and Lundqvist will be able to limit the scoring of the Russian offense, giving Sweden the victory.
Finally, at long last the gold medal and bronze medal games are set. Starting off with the bronze game between the US and Russia, I think the Russian defense hurts them again and the US goaltending, like the Swedish, limit the Russians scoring. The US takes the bronze medal in an overtime thriller. Now over in the gold medal game, that will be another story. Canada and Sweden really are put together very well from top to bottom with very little flaws. Both teams have studs offensively, great defenseman and great goaltending. When it comes down to it, this game could really go either way, but I think that this year is Sweden’s year. The goaltending of Lundqvist will be able to keep the Canadians at bay, while the quick Swedish offense will attempt to pin Canada in their own zone and force them to make mistakes. It will be a close one, but the Swedish earn the gold and Canada takes the silver.
Now, these are all just projections. Goal differentials could be wildly different, even the points could be altered slightly, which would lead to much different matchups come the playoffs, quarterfinals, even the gold medal game. Whatever happens, though, it’s going to be a great few weeks of hockey in Russia.