SOCHI, Russia — The United States might need a victory in Saturday's bronze medal hockey game to beat Russia to the top of the final Sochi Games medal table.
The host nation has recovered from a slow start in the Winter Olympics to win a raft of hardware during the final week, and the overall medal race will likely go down to the wire.
With only 10 of 98 events still to be decided heading into Saturday, there is everything to play for — especially at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, where the U.S. will take on Finland for a place on the men's hockey podium.
According to Yahoo Sports' predictions, a victory there, combined with an expected medal for the four-man bobsled team led by defending champion Steven Holcomb, would push the U.S. to a total of 29 medals overall.
Russia might also reach 29, with its bobsledders also expected to have a top-three finish, its women's team pursuit speedskaters already through to the semifinals, and Alexander Legkov among the favorites in the 50km mass start in cross-country skiing. However, the Americans would still be marginally ahead by virtue of having won one more gold medal.
Not to be discounted is Canada, which has gone on a tear during the final week of the Games, just like it did on home soil in Vancouver four years ago. The Canadians are already guaranteed a medal in men's hockey, having reached the final, where they will take on Sweden on Sunday. More medals could follow when its men's long-track speedskating pursuit team skates for bronze, its bobsledders seek an upset and Caroline Calve competes in the snowboard parallel slalom.
If all those chances end up on the podium, it would take Canada's total to 28, which could be enough to go first if the U.S. or Russia slips up.
Then there is Norway, with opportunities aplenty in its signature sports of biathlon and cross country over the closing days, and a likelihood that it could reach a minimum of 27 medals.
The Winter Olympics are different from the summer version. There, the proliferation of team sports means the Games build up to a final crescendo on the ultimate weekend. Not so here in Sochi, where, like so often in the Winter Olympics, there is a form of tapering off to prepare for next week, when it is back to normality.
The medal race between four countries, two giant ones and two that out-punch their weight in winter sports, could be the most compelling story line of the closing weekend.
PREDICTED FINAL MEDAL TABLE
United States: 10 gold, 7 silver, 12 bronze
Russia: 9 gold, 13 silver, 7 bronze
Canada: 10 gold, 10 silver, 8 bronze
Norway: 13 gold, 5 silver, 9 bronze
U.S. REMAINING MEDALS
Gold: Steven Holcomb (four-man bobsled)
Bronze: Men's hockey team