U.S. path easier, but no team is safe

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Associated Press
February 23, 2010
— The United States’ path to a gold medal suddenly looks much easier. Russia and Canada must circumvent torturous routes. In a few days’ time, Canada has gone from being a big favorite to a big question mark.

As the second week of Olympic hockey begins today, no team is safe. And nothing’s guaranteed in these keep-’em-guessing games.

Two preliminary games—Russia losing to Slovakia in a shootout and the United States upsetting Canada—jumbled the brackets, with Canada, Russia and Sweden all landing on the same side.

No NCAA-like bracketologist is needed to understand that’s a talented cluster of teams.

And with the loss to the Americans, the favored Canadians were exiled to what effectively is a play-in game today.

“We have to look at it positively, it’s going to give us an extra game to get better,” Canada forward Rick Nash said.

It also means a game against Germany on what otherwise would have been a practice day. A game that would be played only 24 hours before the Canadians—if they win—would face Russia in a quarterfinal game that was widely predicted to occur in the finals.

“We’ve got to take this longer route, but we’re still confident that we’re going to do it,” Canada defenseman Drew Doughty said Monday. “It’s going to be a longer route, that’s for sure. But there’s no doubt in our minds we can still do it.”

Russia, Canada and Sweden couldn’t have guessed they’d be going through each other to get to the gold-medal game.

The Slovakia-Norway winner plays Sweden on Wednesday, while the United States gets the Switzerland-Belarus winner. The Czech Republic and Latvia play today for the right to face 2006 silver medalist Finland.

“Everyone forgets that everyone’s in the same position,” Canada forward Sidney Crosby said. “Everyone has to win now. It doesn’t matter what you did in the last three games.”

For the U.S., rarely has one game done so much to improve its medal chances, pump up its confidence and reduce many obstacles blocking its path.

The Americans are the top seed in the quarterfinals and on the easier side of the bracket. If they beat the Switzerland-Belarus winner, they’ll play Finland, the Czech Republic or Latvia on Friday. Win that, and they’ll play for the gold.

But general manager Brian Burke still isn’t totally satisfied with the team, which outworked the Canadians yet was outshot nearly 2 to 1.

“I’m not happy with the way we’ve played to this point,” Burke said Monday. “If that’s how we play, we’re going to have a hard time getting to where we want to get and medaling. We have to play significantly better

“Everything gets ratcheted up now,” he added. “We’ve got to ratchet it up or this all goes for naught. They don’t hand out medals for finishing first in the preliminary round.”

And that next loss will be a team’s last.

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