COLOGNE, GERMANY - MAY 23: Alexander Ovechkin of Russia looks dejected after losing the IIHF World Championship gold medal match between Russia and Czech Republic at Lanxess Arena on May 23, 2010 in Cologne, Germany. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)
There's only four games up today, after six on Saturday and with six scheduled for tomorrow. But the games themselves have a lot going for them.
With a regulation win, the Czechs can wrap up the #1 seed in the Bratislava Group (Group E), while the Russians can move into the #1 spot with one game remaining with a regulation win here. By current standings, that would set up a match against Norway, so that could be the desired finish. Beyond that, this is a classic international rivalry, dating back to the late 1970s when it was Czechoslovakia vs. USSR. This was also last year's World Championship final, where the underdog Czechs took down the stacked Russian team for the gold. The match-up on paper looks pretty even this time around, except Russia has summoned some help from across the sea for this game... this is Alex Ovechkin's 2011 World Championship debut.
This game has a lot of implications, as both teams are in battles for a quarterfinal berth. Sweden can become the second team in the Kosice Group (after Canada) to book a spot in the quarterfinals. For Switzerland, a win would put them into the last quarterfinal position with one game to go. As for the match-up itself, Sweden has been relying on Patrik Berglund and Robert Nilsson for offence to date, getting very little out of their young NHLers so far (Mattias Tendenby, Mikael Backlund, Marcus Kruger). Switzerland has had to counter with the likes of Ivo Ruthemann and Ryan Gardner, not an ideal match-up so far. Tobias Stephan and Viktor Fästh should do battle in goal, although with two games in two nights that's not a guarantee.
Quite simple for the relegation rounds: Winners get an invite to Helsinki/Stockholm for next spring, losers get sent back to Division 1. After all that Slovenia has been through, it'd be a cruel fate to get sent down, but they have a tough task against the more talented Belarussians. Latvia has been given a second life, and after their impressive win over Belarus yesterday they have a chance to bring the party to the Nordic capitals next year. Austria held off Slovenia yesterday with a tight 3-2 win, really showing their first positive performance of the tournament at the last moment.
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