The 2014 Men’s Olympic hockey semifinals are set, with Sweden and Finland squaring off today, Friday Feb 21@12:00 pm ET. Finland and Sweden are long-established rivals, and both teams badly want the gold medal. Sweden enters as the favorite in this contest. This is going to be closer than many people imagine. There are injuries and weaknesses for both teams, but it comes down to Sweden’s defense versus Finland’s brilliant teamwork.
As impressive as Sweden’s forwards and defensemen have been throughout the tournament—especially blue-liner Erik Karlsson—its goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, has been the team’s MVP in the tournament. The veteran New York Ranger was a rock through the preliminary round and was stellar in his shutout effort Wednesday against the Slovenians. He’s played and won every game, with two shutouts, a .949 save percentage and 1.25 goals-against average.
Sweden is the only team that has won every game in regulation time, but it hasn’t been tested as much as the other semifinalists. The Swedes were in the weakest group with the Swiss, Latvians and Czechs, and they easily dispatched Slovakia in the quarterfinals. Thanks to Karlsson, who is second in tournament scoring with seven points in four games, the goals have been coming despite the absence of marquee players Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin; however, the Swedes have yet to face one of the favorites.
The Finns aren’t flashy, overly speedy or even all that exceptional offensively. Yet, they somehow find ways to score timely goals and shut down teams much more talented—on paper—than themselves. Finland always plays strong in international competitions, regardless of the year. Despite not winning gold, it’s the only country to earn a medal in every men’s hockey tournament at the Olympics since NHLers began to participate in 1994. The reason for the consistency is a dedication to playing the same way—physical, grinding, defensive and opportunistic.
Finland’s goalie Tuukka Rask’s overall save percentage is subpar this tournament, but he was outstanding in Wednesday’s game against Russia. If Finland is to advance, goaltending will be a major story.
Although Finland has taken the fewest penalties in the tournament, it has also performed the poorest when with a man down, allowing three goals on four short-handed situations. Even one or two penalties could sway momentum in Finland’s opponents’ favor, putting a lot of pressure on goaltender Tuukka Rask to make sure that statistic gets turned around the rest of the way.
2014 Men’s Olympic Hockey Sweden vs Finland
When: Friday Feb 21@12:00 pm ET
Pick: Sweden -135
The Bottom Line: the Swedes are chalk full of talented NHLers with a red hot goalie, they move on and win gold. We recommend you sign up with Bovada to receive a 10% sign up bonus heading into the Mens hockey semi-final.