Bronze medal games are viewed by some countries as simply consolation prizes, and that description fits the two teams that are facing each other here quite well. With their deep, star studded rosters, the Czech Republic and Russia no doubt believe they deserved to be playing a rematch of last year's gold medal game four hours later. However, fate has landed these two proud hockey nations a slight blow, and the prize they will be fighting for is not as lucrative as they had hoped.
However, there is tremendous pride in winning bronze at this event, and I don't expect that motivation will be lost upon these teams.
How did the Czechs end up here? After cruising through the preliminary and qualification rounds undefeated, and a relatively easy 4-0 quarterfinal win over the Americans, the defending champions couldn't solve Swedish goaltender Viktor Fästh early in the semifinals, failing to build an early lead. The Swedes played a strong, disciplined game and shut down the dangerous combination of Tomas Plekanec and Jaromir Jagr, and eventually broke through the Czech defense to dominate the second period and build a lead with which they wouldn't relinquish in the third period.
For the Russians, something similar happened. Finland stymied the Russians early, and when Mikael Granlund scored his magical goal to give Finland a 1-0 lead in the second period, the Russians started to open up offensively and gave up some high quality chances as a result. Alex Ovechkin, arguably the top player on the planet, was held scoreless again, culminating an intensely frustrating season for the superstar. The team took a number of offensive zone penalties and couldn't mount sustained pressure before falling behind 3-0 in the third period.
In this game, the specter of avenging last year's shocking gold medal result looms large for Russia. The proud nation has been humbled a bit at this tournament they have come to dominate the past four years. This is the first year in four that the Russians are not playing for gold, and I think they have the edge in motivation. For the Czechs, this is an opportunity to thank their loyal supporters who have shown up en masse to Bratislava to see their country try once again to prove to the world that they can come out on top in big international tournaments. But can they really beat the Russian machine a third straight time at this event?
I'm predicting a bronze medal for Russia here. Join us in the comments for discussion and updates on the game. I'll have a new post up for the gold medal game after this is finished.