SOCHI, Russia – David Backes has beaten the Canadians before in the Olympics. It’s just that his timing was off.
“Well, we beat 'em in Vancouver in the prelims. We won the wrong game, I'd say, in Canada,” he said.
“To beat them is something that was on our list. It seems like we were on a crash course to meet those guys, and we get them in the semifinal instead of the final, which would have been a little more storybook, to get that rivalry rekindled. But to win the gold medal you're going to have to beat the best teams in this tournament.”
The U.S. gets their shot a revenge against Canada on Friday in the Sochi Olympics semifinals (noon ET; 9 p.m. local time). Both teams are undefeated, winning twice in regulation and once in overtime/shootout during pool play, before winning their quarterfinal matchups.
Will the Canadians continue their dominance of the Americans in the games that matter? Or is the U.S. ready to take out their rivals from the north?
Here are five keys to the game:
The Canadian Offense
The Americans lead the Olympics with 20 goals in four games. The Canadians have 13 goals in four games, the lowest total of the semifinalists. Some of their biggest guns have yet to fire – Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Marleau are all without goals. Is it just a matter of time until Canada breaks out, or can the Americans keep them looking disjointed?
Shutting down JVR and Phil The Thrill
In each of the Americans' four victories, either Phil Kessel (5 goals, 3 assists) or James van Riemsdyk (1 goal, 4 assists) has factored in on the first goal of the game. They Toronto Maple Leafs linemates have been the most dangerous offensive players for the U.S. and their unquestioned catalysts; but if the Canadian shutdown pair of Duncan Keith and Shea Weber, with support from whatever forward group is matched with them, are able to neutralize Kessel and JVR, it’ll be up to far less consistent scorers in the U.S. lineup to shine.
Teammates Vs. Goalies
You know what’s great about this whole “NHL teammates battle against each other as Olympic rivals” thing? Espionage!
The U.S. will have pestered Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty to explain how to beat his NHL teammate and Team Canada goalie Carey Price. What will he tell them? “He doesn’t have too many weaknesses, so I’m not going to tell the boys too much obviously,’’ Pacioretty said Thursday after practice. “He’s one of the best goalies in the world. He’s been playing great hockey this year. Just like any goalie you got to try and not let him see the puck. It’s the only way you’re going to beat him.”
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Canada will have pestered Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty for his teammate Jonathan Quick’s tendencies. “When he gets hot, when he makes big saves early, he seems to become unbeatable. That’s why we need to get one early on him. The only way we’re going to score on him is to get pucks up high and gets screens in front and tips. He’s going to make the easy saves every time. It’s going to be a big challenge for us. But I think it’s definitely something we’re going to overcome,” said Doughty.
Then of course you have Coach vs. Center. Dan Bylsma and Sidney Crosby know each other quite well from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Expect the David Backes “Meat Line” to be deployed against Crosby.
Brad Meier and Kelly Sutherland will be your referees for the USA/Canada showdown. The Canadians have inexplicably gotten only seven power plays in their four games, and their 13:13 of power play time is the lowest in the Olympics. The Americans have fares slightly better at 11 power plays in four games. Will the whistles be put away or will a heated game be tightly called?
The Weight Of History
The Americans are looking to avenge a gold medal game overtime loss to Canada in 2010. There are 13 members from that team on the Sochi roster. As we saw with the American women in their finale against Canada, revenge can be a heck of a motivation or a crushing weight on one’s shoulders when adversity hits.