2014 Winter Olympics: USA Men's Hockey Rolls to Semifinals, Canada Escapes Latvia to Meet Them

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

The Olympic semifinals are set with two huge rivalry games on tap.

The match up we've all been waiting for will happen, though a round earlier than many would have hoped.

With two very different quarterfinal victories, the United States men's hockey team and Canada will now meet Friday in the Olympic semifinals for the rights to play the best of the north for gold. Oh, and some other stuff happened on the other side of the bracket too.

The semifinal schedule is set. Finland versus Sweden at 6:30 a.m. central time Friday. USA versus Canada at 11 a.m.

Four teams. Three medals. Endless nationalistic bragging. This is what we're here for.

United States 5, Czech Republic 2

The United States' offense continued to roll, getting a goal less than  two minutes into the game against the Czech Republic and pouring it on later after a brief push from the very game (and very stylish, in those flag jerseys) Czechs.

Of course, they got a huge help from some, shall we say, questionable goaltending on the part of Ondrej Pavelec, who was yanked after allowing four goals on 12 shots. It was too little too late for the Czechs, though, who allowed a back-breaking goal with 1.8 seconds left in the first period that really defined the game. Pavelec should have probably played the initial shot better, but David Backes was all by his lonesome on the post as well.

Five different players scored for the Americans - Backes, James van Riemsdyk,  Dustin Brown, Zach Parise and Phil Kessel - while Ales Hemsky continued his "Doesn't anybody want to get me out of Edmonton?" audition with a pair of goals. Jonathan Quick was good when he had to be but not overly busy, facing 23 shots.

The question for the Americans is how much of this is repeatable against better goaltending. There's no question that Pavelec was bad today, and the Americans took full advantage. They almost certainly won't get that sort of break on Friday.

Canada 2, Latvia 1

You could feel it, the sigh of relief that surged down from Canada and swept across the continent.

After all, Team Canada was doing everything right. They were strafing Team Latvia's poor goalie with more than 50 shots. They took an early lead just to avoid this type of drama. But here they were, with less than 10 minutes left in the game, all tied up at one.

In fact, the Latvians got the kind of break that often leads to the real underdog upset in these single-elimination games as a player used his hand to sweep the puck off the goal line as it was surely creeping in. Visions of Tommy Salo and Belarus danced in everyone's heads.

Then along came a defenseman - because of course it was a defenseman - to give Canada the break it needed. Shea Weber unleashed a bomb that finally found its way past Kristers Gudlevskis on the power play. And a whole nation breathed..

Patrick Sharp opened the scoring for Canada, but Lauris Darzins equalized less than two minutes later, and the bunker defense was on. Some questioned Latvia's decision to start Gudlevskis after he sat yesterday while his teammate helped them advance, but it turned out to be a masterstroke. He deserves an IV, massage and all the kudos after his 52 save night.

There was also this bit of bad news for Canada:

So the question now is how does Canada respond. After all, they didn't play all that poorly in this game, scoring excluded. The scoring from the forward ranks has been suspect all tournament - my favorite graphic I saw yesterday showed how Kari Lehtonen has more points than Sidney Crosby. The talent there is simply unmatched. They are very scary.

Do they turn it on next game from a scoring standpoint? Can their luckdragons possibly remain angry again on Friday? We'll find out in two days.

Sweden 5, Slovenia 0

The other Cinderella run of the elimination round did their best to make it a close game with the heavily favored Swedes, and the Slovenians did quite a good job of keeping things close through two periods. Only a power-play goal (of course) from Alex Steen gave the Swedes a cushion.

But a goal two minutes into the third period from Daniel Sedin, assisted by former Stars fan favorite Loui Eriksson, seemed to sap the life from the underdogs. Eriksson got a goal of his own seven minutes later, and the rout was on.

It was a heck of a game and run from Slovenia, who had never won a game at the Olympics before this tournament. But now the Swedes turn their attention to the rival Finns, who dispatched Russia 3-1 in the first true elimination match between medal favorites.

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