Murph’s Musings: Olympic Hockey Picks For Qualification And Quarterfinals Rounds

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Feb 15, 2014; Sochi, RUSSIA; Latvia forward Mikelis Redlihs (24) attempts to poke the puck in the net as Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30), Sweden forward Jimmie Ericsson (42) defend in a men’s preliminary round ice hockey game during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Shayba Arena. Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The seedings are set for the qualification and medal rounds of the Men’s Olympic hockey tournament and Sweden, United States, Canada and Finland all earned byes and automatic spots in the quarterfinals. Of those four the United States appear to be the most dominant and hottest team right now as they have used a balanced attack, strong defense and solid goaltending to go 2-1-0-0 through the first three games. Right now, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if USA and Canada end up in a rematch in the semifinals if all top four seeds were to advance from the quarterfinals. But as history has proved, things don’t always go as planned and upsets can occur. Here’s this scribe’s take on who out of the top four seeds is the most likely to be upset in the quarterfinals.

Despite injuries to Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Henrik Sedin, Sweden has persevered and earned the top seed going forward. Henrik Lundqvist is playing like the King of the world again and showing flashes of the brilliance he showed in 2006 when he led the Swedes to gold in Torino. Lundqvist and his teammates will face either Austria or Slovenia in the quarterfinals and to this point, neither looks capable of pulling off what would be an historic and monster upset. Expect Slovenia to advance to the quarterfinals but to be a sacrificial lamb for the Swedes.

USA earned the second seed and will face either Slovakia or the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. They have already beaten the Slovaks, a team that despite taking Russia to a shootout on Sunday seems to be still lacking what it takes to pull off an upset. The Czechs however are a real wild card. Clearly they have underachieved and as pointed out here on Saturday following their 1-0 loss to Switzerland, they are a team in disarray thanks to some questionable player personnel decisions heading into and during this tournament. However, with the ‘Peter Pan’ of hockey, Jaromir Jagr, playing as if he was back in his Pittsburgh days, the Czechs still pose a threat. If they can overcome the poor coaching decisions thus far from Alois Hadamczik, this team should be able to beat Slovakia but isn’t necessarily a sure win for USA. The thought here is that the Czechs advance and give USA a solid game but that the Americans advance to the semifinals and Phil Kessel — who had a hat trick Sunday in the 5-1 over Slovenia — continues his Hart Trophy like pace lighting the lamp twice.

Canada started this tournament slow even in a 3-1 win over Norway. They looked sluggish and lacked chemistry up front. But their goaltending from Carey Price in that game and in their 2-1 overtime win over Finland on Sunday and from Roberto Luongo in their 6-0 win over Austria has been solid and they’re not only getting shutdown defense but plenty of offense from the blue line. If there was a Norris Trophy award for the Olympics, Drew Doughty may have it locked up already. Doughty had two goals in the win Sunday and has scored four in the tournament. But while Doughty and his defensive mates are providing offense, this isn’t a good time for the Canadian offense to be struggling like they are. The belief here is that Switzerland will beat Latvia and face Canada in the quarterfinals. With the Swiss resembling the Devils dynasty teams of the mid-nineties to early 2000’s, there is a better than most will think chance Canada could be an upset victim in the quarterfinals. Does this scribe think they will lose? No. But it won’t be easy.

Much like their bitter rivals, Sweden, Finland has had to overcome major injuries, specifically up the middle. They were already without centers Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula who were ruled out due to injury before the tournament started as well as Saku Koivu who chose not to compete in Sochi. Then they lost center Aleksander Barkov in their 6-1 win over Norway Friday. But still they too have overcome injuries and while they lost in overtime to Canada Sunday they still pose a threat with their depth and the goaltending of Tuukka Rask (25 saves vs. Canada) and Kari Lehtonen. But their resilience could be tested should as expected, Russia beats Norway in the qualification game. Much like Canada, Russia’s offense is still trying to find it’s groove but with so much skill like Canada, it’s only a matter of time and a chance to feast on Norway could be what the doctor ordered for the host country. Then it’s hard to believe if they start clicking they will fall on home soil in the quarterfinals. But Finland does play solid team defense and with that goaltending anything is possible. This scribe though will say that of the top four seeds, Finland will be the one to fall in the quarterfinals.

Going forward for the next two rounds here are my picks:

Qualification Round

Slovenia over Austria

Czech Republic over Slovakia

Switzerland over Latvia

Russia over Norway

Quarterfinals

Sweden over Slovenia

United States over Czech Republic

Canada over Switzerland

Russia over Finland

James Murphy is a freelance reporter who also writes for NHL.com. He covered the Boston Bruins/NHL for last 11 seasons writing for ESPNBoston.com, ESPN.com, NHL.com, NESN.com, Insidehockey.com and Le Hockey Magazine. Murphy also currently hosts “Murphy’s Hockey Law” (Saturdays 9-11 AM ET on Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio and 4-6 PM ET on Websportsmedia.com. He is also a regular guest TSN 690 in Montreal and Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio.
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