BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - MAY 09: Alexander Radulov (L) of Russia and Sami Lepisto (R) of Finland battle for the puck during the IIHF World Championship qualification match between Russia and Finland at Orange Arena on May 9, 2011 in Bratislava, Slovakia. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Yesterday, the favourites prevailed, with the Czech Republic and Sweden winning their quarterfinals convincingly. They'll meet in the semifinals on Friday at 4:15 PM Bratislava time. I guess I should've went with no upsets... Sweden is now into their 11th straight World Championship semifinal, which is incredible. More on that matchup tomorrow, we've got some more pressing games to cover:
This on paper looks like the biggest mismatch of all the quarterfinals, but Norway has surprised a lot of nations with their very structured style. Norway's game revolves around playing a short bench, as team captain Ole-Kristian Tollefson has played over 30 minutes a game so far, and really only ten forwards and four defensemen play significant minutes. So if this is your first chance to see Norway, well, you'll get used to a few names in a hurry, like Anders Bastiansen, Morten Ask, Marius Holtet, and of course, Mathis Olimb and Jonas Holos. Finland will have to avoid taking too many penalties, because Norway's power play has been very impressive to date. Finland has also been using all-world centre Mikko Koivu pretty much as much as possible, while getting good offensive production out of Tuomo Ruutu, Janne Pensonen, Jarkko Immonen and budding star Mikael Granlund. Suomi's Leijonat have missed the semifinals the past two years, and this is as good of a chance to get back into a medal game as they're likely going to get. Expect them to not let it slip away.
Hmm... Canada, Russia... Anyone got anything here? Have they played each other before?
Uh, yeah. Its what Canadian fans and Russian fans live for in international competition. Even with the emergence of other powers, who at times take the spotlight for their own (Czech Republic, Sweden, United States), the largest and most traditional hockey rivalry of them all involves the world's two largest nations. At the World Championships, its not quite at the level of the World Juniors, and definitely not at the Olympics, but these are always grudge matches, and the winner will get to rub it in the loser's face until the next time. Russian forward Vladimir Tarasenko was involved in the most recent epic clash between the countries, the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship final, courageously returning from what seemed like a significant injury to help lead a comeback for the ages in front of a large pro-Canadian crowd in Buffalo. He'll be playing a support role here, taking backstage to Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov. The Russians haven't played their best game yet at this tournament, a fact that is worrying to Canadian fans. Ken Hitchcock will be looking to exploit weaknesses in the Russian game, but he'll need more out of the likes of Matt Duchene and Travis Zajac than he's gotten so far. Canada's leaders are Rick Nash, Jason Spezza, and James Neal, and then the dropoff is to the U21 power play specialists known as John Tavares, Jeff Skinner and Jordan Eberle. The goaltending matchup is Konstantin Barulin vs. Jonathan Bernier, which certainly is interesting if lacking the epic goaltending duels that have often defined this rivalry.
My picks for today are Finland and Canada moving on, but in Canada/Russia in a one game knockoff... yeah, anything can and likely will happen. Join the discussion in the comments throughout the day's games. They should be on TSN and Versus in North America, and they'll be on somewhere wherever you happen to be in Europe.