Tonight's game featuring Team Canada vs. Slovakia might not be a match-up anyone would have predicted coming into the 2010 Winter Olympic men's hockey tournament, but with a berth into the gold medal game on the line you can basically throw predictions out the window. Tonight it will come down to which team wants it more and which team executes better. Anything can happen in a single elimination game. A hot goaltender, a bad bounce, or an untimely penalty - any of these, or a slew of other, factors can ultimately determine which team comes out on top at the end of 60 minutes.
Neither team can claim an edge in momentum. Canada is coming in on a high after destroying Russia 7-3 in the quarter-finals. However, Slovakia is just as pumped after eking out a 4-3 win in the quarters over defending Olympic gold medalist Sweden.
Obviously Team Canada has the advantage of team depth over Slovakia. Every player on their roster is a bona fide NHL star, and even young players like Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and Jonathan Toews have been showing beyond a doubt they belong on this biggest of hockey stages.
However, Slovakia has plenty of game-breaking NHL stars of their own, and Canada will have to deal with the likes of Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara and a rejuvenated Pavol Demitra. In net, a position that has always been an Achilles heel for the Slovaks, they finally have a star-caliber goaltender. Jaroslav Halak has been a huge reason the Montreal Canadiens remain in the playoff hunt in the NHL's Eastern Conference, and he has continued his hot play here at the Olympics.
Slovakia has also enjoyed some great team chemistry during this tournament, something more highly touted teams like Russia and the <Czech Republic were unable to find before they were bounced prematurely from the tournament.
Canada, for their part have finally seemed to find some chemistry of their own, with looking fantastic on a line with Mike Richards and Jonathan Toews. Gritty but gifted playmaker Ryan Getzlaf finally busted out in the quarterfinal game against the Russians, as Brenden Morrow joined he and Anaheim Ducks teammate Corey Perry. Together the trio was absolutely dominant, scoring 4 of Canada's 7 goals and punishing their opposition physically the entire night.
On the top line look for Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, and Eric Staal to do some damage tonight. Though they were relatively quiet against the Russians there is far too much talent there to remain silent for long.
Though he is known as a meticulous tweaker Mike Babcock seems to have finally found his line combinations, and look for these three lines, along with the San Jose Sharks trio of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to stay together from here on out. For those feeling sorry for Canada's 13th forward, Patrice Bergeron save your sympathy. Canada's Swiss army knife certainly won't be tied to the bench. He'll see plenty of spot duty taking key face-offs and killing penalties.
So who will win tonight's game between Canada and Slovakia? Sorry Slovakia fans - your team has enjoyed a great run - but the ride comes to an abrupt end tonight. Canada is simply too deep, too talented, too determined, and have a huge home ice advantage. You might have caught them napping early in the tournament, but they are rolling now, and nothing is going to get in their way of a berth into the gold medal game this Sunday. Barring a miracle by the Finns, who currently trail the Americans 6-0 early in the second period of their semi-final, that game will be a highly anticipated rematch between Team Canada and Team USA. Canada certainly doesn't need any extra motivation, but you know should the Americans win they the Canadian players will be highly motivated to get another shot at the team that beat them last Sunday.