BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - MAY 09: Dennis Endras, goaltender of Germany looks dejected during the IIHF World Championship qualification match between Germany and Czech Republic at Orange Arena on May 9, 2011 in Bratislava, Slovakia. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)
OK, time for the big boys...
It's tough to see how the Czechs are going to lose this one based on their play to date. However, going through the tournament undefeated is not an easy task... you'd think that even a team as good as this one would put up a stinker at some point. That's the fear for Czech fans, and the hope for the Americans. The Czechs have three lines as good or better than the first line for the Americans, and Tomas Plekanec has been a man on a mission since arriving for the Czechs, leading the team in ice time, while centring a deadly power play unit. He's joined by Jaromir Jagr and Roman Cervenka, while Patrik Elias leads the team in scoring from their second line. It is experience vs. youth, with the Americans countering with the likes of Nashville Predators prospect Craig Smith, late addition James Van Riemsdyk, and leading scorer Derek Stepan. The blueline is the Americans' true strength, but I can't see how Cam Fowler and Jack Johnson will be able to defend against the top Czech players. The Americans will require a big performance from Ty Conklin in goal, and with the Americans doing a bit of musical goalies in their qualification round, this isn't the ideal time to face a top opponent. With a boisterous crowd behind them, look for the Czechs to advance. However, this has been a promising tournament for the Americans, who are allowing some of their top young talent to play senior international hockey for the first time.
This game, on the other hand, has the makings of an upset. Sweden has played better as the tournament has gone on, while there is some evidence of Germany fading a bit as the tournament has gone on, but Germany has a few ex-factors going for it. One, the Germans roll four lines pretty evenly, and have proven difficult to break as a result. Any of about six or seven different forwards has the ability to be the hero on a given night for them, from Marcel Mueller, John Tripp, Felix Schutz, Patrick Reimer or Thomas Greilinger. Backing them up is Dennis Endras in goal, who continues to frustrate top players. That being said, Sweden has more gamebreakers than Germany, and if it comes to having to break a tie game late, they can turn to Patrik Berglund, Magnus Paajarvi, Loui Eriksson or the relatively quiet Mattias Tedenby to break through. Sweden will also finally be icing a full lineup in this game, waiting until the last possible moment to expand their roster to include star prospect David Rundblad on D. Viktor Fasth has given up only two goals so far this tournament, and Germany may not have the firepower to score more than two goals in this game on him. I need to pick an upset, though, and Germany is the team I'm looking for delivering it this time.
Before this all begins, I'll just put my predicted final out there: Canada vs. the Czechs. Not entirely original, with both being the #1 seeds, but the rosters look too strong for me to consider otherwise. In a one game knockoff, though, I won't feel too bad if I'm wrong on this one.
Stick around in the comments for discussion and updates on the games.