Carey Price will get the start for Team Canada in the Semifinal of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games tomorrow. It will be Price’s fourth start of the tournament, and will be by far his toughest test.
Price will face off against Canadiens teammate Max Pacioretty and the United States who have gone undefeated thus far. The Americans have been a scoring machine at this tournament, scoring seven goals in their opening game against Slovakia, and a total of 20 in their four games.
The USA beat an underwhelming Czech Republic team in the Quarterfinal yesterday 5-2 on the strength of a three assist night from defenseman Ryan Suter. Pacioretty was held scoreless, as he skated just over eleven minutes of ice time on the fourth line with Paul Stastny and T.J. Oshie.
Price has put up great numbers thus far, albeit against low scoring opponents Norway, Finland and Latvia. He will have to be on top of his game the rest of the way, as the final four teams all have excellent goaltending.
Price will go head to head with American Jonathan Quick with a ticket to the Gold Medal Game on the line. Quick was given the nod in the American net over 2010 Olympic MVP Ryan Miller, and has left no reason for second guessing.
Quick started game one against Slovakia and stopped 22 of 23 shots he faced, playing his part in a dominating 7-1 performance by the USA squad. Quick then got the call against Russia and stopped 29 of 31 shots, before facing a steady diet of Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk in the shootout. He was not perfect in the shootout, but kept two of the most creative shooters from winning the game, and allowed teammate Oshie his heroics.
After Miller played against Slovenia, the Americans came back to Quick for the Quarterfinal game against the Czech’s. Quick would stop 21 of 23 shots and led the USA to a 5-2 victory, booking their ticket to the semifinal against Canada.
Quick has a knack for playing his best when the games matter most. His career save percentage in the NHL’s regular season is a solid .914, but in his 50 career playoff games he has posted a .929. This of course, includes a Stanley Cup win and a Conn Smythe Trophy performance from 2012.
In his three Olympic starts, Quick has posted a 1.62 goals against average and a .935 SV %. Price has kept his GAA just under 1.00 in three games and has a .941 SV % in his three starts for Canada. It will be tough for him to outduel the Los Angeles Kings goaltender, but it may be even more difficult when he plays for a medal.
The second semifinal has European rivals Sweden and Finland going head to head in a 2006 Gold Medal Game rematch. Tuukka Rask started off the Olympic Games for Finland with a rare shaky performance against Austria. He was beaten by New York Islander Michael Grabner three times, but the game was never in doubt for Finland, as they won 8-4.
After sitting against Norway in favor of Kari Lehtonen, Rask has bounced back with consecutive excellent performances against two of the best hockey nations in the world.
Rask carried the Finns to overtime against Canada, stopping 25 shots before Drew Doughty beat him in the extra frame to give the Canadians a 2-1 win. Tuukka then carried Finland on his back against Russia in the Quarterfinal. He stopped 36 shots and was only beaten by an Ilya Kovalchuk power play one timer from the slot, eliminating the host nation and medal favorite with a 3-1 victory.
Rask opened the tournament with a tough outing, but does have a 2-0-1 record and posted a .953 SV % in the past two games against excellent teams. He will have to be at his best against Sweden if Finland is going to move on to play for gold.
New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is the backbone of the Swedish team, and has played every minute of the Olympic Games. King Henrik picked his game up with the Rangers heading into the Olympic Games, and carried that hot streak into the tournament.
Sweden has probably had the easiest schedule thus far of any Semi-finalist, but there have been no slip ups in goal. The Swedes played the Czech Republic, Latvia and Switzerland in the Preliminary Round. As it turns out, the Czech’s were in total disarray, the Swiss could not score on anyone, and Latvia was one of the weakest offensive teams in the tournament. Sweden then caught a bit of a break as they faced Slovenia in the Quarterfinal and shut them out with ease.
Like I said, the opposition has not been fantastic, but Lundqvist has stopped 92 of 97 shots he has faced, good for a 1.25 GAA and a .949 SV %. The pressure of playing in these games will not be a worry for Henrik, as he already backstopped Sweden to a gold medal win in the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.
Carey Price will have to be fantastic for Canada if he is going to outshine his opposition and lead this team to gold. Price has been doing just that all season with the Montreal Canadiens, so Team Canada may be worried about the goaltenders they are about to face, but their own goaltender is the least of their worries.