United States forward T.J. Oshie, left, is congratulated by goalie Ryan Miller, right, after Oshie scored the game-winning goal in a shootout against Russia in a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The U.S. won 3-2 in a shootout. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)
Team USA’s path to a gold medal got a little bit easier on Sunday afternoon after several of the day's results helped their chase.
For starters, the U.S. side took care of business against Slovenia in their final game of the preliminary round robin, taking down a relatively easy 5-1 victory thanks to Phil Kessel’s hat trick in the game. The victory guaranteed the Americans a bye into the quarterfinals, but they needed some help to make their bracket a bit easier.
That help came in the form of the Canada-Finland game, which ended up going to overtime with the Canadians winning a 2-1 decision on Drew Doughty’s second goal of the game. The overtime win only gave Canada eight points in the first round, which matched the U.S. total, and the Americans won a tiebreaker on goal differential, meaning that they locked up the number two seed in the knockout stage, while Canada had to settle for third.
So what does that mean for Team USA’s chances at a gold medal? For starters, getting the second seed means that they avoid a quarterfinal matchup with Switzerland, who has a playoff round game against Latvia on Tuesday. If they win that one, they represent one of the toughest defense/goaltending tandems in the tournament, and will be a pain in the neck for whoever they face down the road.
As for the Americans, they will face the winner of Tuesday’s game between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, who the Americans already beat by a score of 7-1 earlier in the tournament. Those two teams despise each other, and fans should be in for a highly physical slugfest in that contest.
Should the U.S. knock off their quarterfinal opponent, then their semi-final opponent could get a bit more interesting. They could potentially face a rematch with Team Canada in that round, and although fans would surely be disappointed that the two teams won’t be facing each other in the gold medal game like they did in Vancouver four years ago, it would still be a great chance for the U.S. to extract some revenge on their neighbors to the north.
Potential gold medal matchups for the Americans would include a rematch with Russia, or potentially a game against the top-seeded Team Sweden. Either way, the U.S. did benefit from the way the games played out today, and it will be interesting to see how things play out now that their path toward the gold medal game has been laid out in front of them.