Ottawa 67’s goalie Petr Mrazek did his best to pull off an upset, but his Czech Republic team fell 2-1 in overtime to the defending champion Russian squad. Mrazek made 43 saves, but it was the 445th shot that sent the upstart Czechs home without a medal and set up tonight’s Canada-Russia semi-final.
Canada hasn’t played since New Years Eve and their 3-2 victory over the US. The biggest question for the Canadians going into this one is who will be between the pipes for the all-important matchup. Mark Visentin and Scott Wedgewood each played 2 games in the preliminary round and there isn’t much to choose between them numbers-wise. Visentin allowed 3 goals (with a .941 SP) while Wedgewood surrendered 2 (.966 SP). I am of the opinion, and I stated this in my WJC Preview, that Wedgewood would end up being the starter in the medal round, and this tournament has done nothing to change my mind. He seems more comfortable in the net and i believe Visentin still hasn’t recovered from last year’s collapse.
Canada will win this game if they can control the Russian speed and shiftiness. Having played a hard-fought game 24 hours earlier should hamper the Russian’s ability to utilize that speed and should work to Canada’s advantage. That is why winning the group and getting a bye was so important.
In the other semi-final today, it is another rivalry that takes the stage as the Finns meet the Swedes. Sweden clinched Group A with a very Ottawa Senator-like final minute comeback and OT victory over the Russians. Finland dispatched a pesky Slovakian squad 8-5 in the first quarterfinal yesterday, and they are not the same team that Canada defeated 8-1 on Boxing Day.
The Sweden Finland game is at 5:00 pm followed by Canada-Russia at 9:00 pm. On another note, the USA will attempt to avoid relegation at 1:00 pm when they face Latvia. The highest the Americans can finish is 7th in this tournament.
I predict that Finland will pull the upset on the strength of the Granlund brothers and goaltending in the first semi-final. In the second, Canada will use the home crowd and the fact that the Russians spent a lot of energy against the Czechs and claim a spot in the gold medal game.
Enjoy the games!