Preview: Host Russia takes on rested Finland in quarterfinals
RUSSIA vs. FINLAND
When: Wednesday, 7:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN, CBC)
Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome
What's at stake: Each country is still three wins away from bringing home gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but first things first: Russia and Finland meet Wednesday in a showdown of international superpowers, with one moving into the semifinals on Friday while the other goes home without the opportunity to play for a medal.
Russia: Hockey fans across Russia are still waiting for a dominant effort from the host nation; now might be a good time to deliver it. Russia has won three of the four games it's played in the tournament and the one loss was in an eight-round shootout against the United States. However, none of the wins came easily, including the opener in group play against Slovenia or the 4-0 win Tuesday against Norway in the play-in round.
The score itself would suggest Russia had little to worry about, but the game was scoreless into second period before Alexander Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk scored. Even after that, Norway hung in until the final minutes, when Russia doubled its advantage. The competition from here on out just gets better -- Norway played Tuesday without its lone NHL player, Mats Zuccarello, whereas Finland, despite battling its fair share of injuries, is still stacked, particularly in goal.
"They're a good team, they've got a good goalie and we have to find a way to beat him if we want a chance to win," Kovalchuk said. "I think we play better and better with each game. Even with Slovakia I think we played well and created a lot of chances.
"We didn't score much, but it was a big win for us [Tuesday]."
Finland: By taking Canada to overtime in its final game in Group B play Sunday, even with a defeat Finland was able to secure a bye into the quarterfinals by finishing as the second-place team with the most points. Finland earned decisive wins against Austria and Norway earlier in the tournament.
Even with an injury that has ended Aleksander Barkov's tournament further depleting the Finns at center and young players like Olli Maatta and Sami Vatanen playing important minutes on defense, they've come together behind the strong goaltending of Tuukka Rask and the leadership of veterans such as captain Teemu Selanne.
Following practice on Monday, Finland coach Erkka Westerlund seemed prepared for the likelihood Finland would have to knock off the Russians in Russia to continue their medal quest.
"In this tournament, you will have to win against big countries," Westerlund said. "Russia would be a big challenge for us. They play very good hockey and they have good set of players."
What's next: The winner of this game will face the winner of Sweden against Slovenia to be played earlier Wednesday (3 a.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN).