The Hockey Story: Can Slovaks avoid letdown? Canada/U.S. eve

The Hockey Story sets the scene and the storylines for the day's Olympic ice hockey action, in a handy and easy-to-follow numerical format.

1. Slovakia seeks to avoid the letdown

The euphoria of the Slovaks' win over the Russians probably hasn't subsided yet, so expect them to start well against Latvia ... mostly because everyone has. The Latvians have given up three goals in the first in losses to Russia and yesterday to the Czechs. They played much better in the second period in both games. Better for Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa and the boys to roll them early (4:30 p.m. PST/7:30 p.m. EST; US TV: MSNBC).

2. Can scrappy Norway earn more than respect?

The Norwegians played one good period against Canada and two competitive periods against the U.S. They have zero points to show for it. The Swiss woke up Olympic hockey fans with their near-upset of Canada on Thursday, and have established themselves as a dark horse to advance in the qualification round. Let's see how they put away the Norge (noon PST/3 p.m. EST.; US TV: MSNBC).

3. Critical seeding for Germany and Belarus

Disappointing effort from Germany last night in a 5-0 loss to Finland, which leaves both them and Belarus (9 p.m. EST/midnight PST; TV: MSNBC) with two losses and no points in the standings. Worse yet, it leaves Germany as the only team in the tournament yet to score a goal. The game will mean plenty for seeding in the next round; Belarus showed against Sweden on Friday that they're not an easy out.

4. U.S., Canada avoid locker room material

While today's games are obviously important, there's another event at Hockey Place today: The last media availability for U.S. and Canadian players before their epic showdown. Expect plenty of talk about respect, teammates facing teammates, national pride ... and complete downplaying of the importance of what is simply a preliminary game before the medal round.

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