Friday’s semifinal action features two of the best rivalries in hockey with both the U.S. and Canada and Sweden and Finland squaring off in Sochi, Russia for the chance to compete for gold. Here’s what to watch once the puck drops:
1. Scoring woes for Canada: Team Canada’s coach Mike Babcock believes his squad’s white-knuckled victory over Latvia on Wednesday might have been exactly the type of win to prepare the team for the final weekend of the tournament. But though the reigning Olympic champs enter Friday’s game with an undefeated record, they haven’t set the ice on fire despite boasting what was regarded as the deepest pool of forwards of any team in competition. The Canadians have scored only 13 goals, six of which have come from defensemen. By comparison, the U.S. has had no trouble producing with a balanced scoring attack of 20 goals in four games, with nine different forwards finding the back of the net.
N.Y. viewers: Keep an eye on Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, who is expected to play on a line with fellow workhorse forwards and veteran leaders Dustin Brown and David Backes. The blue-collar trio will be an important one for the Americans.
2. Down and out: The Canadians will be without 23-year-old center John Tavares, who suffered a tournament and season-ending knee injury in Wednesday’s quarterfinal win against Latvia. Following a hard hit into the boards during the second period, Tavares hobbled off the ice with what was later revealed to be a torn meniscus and torn MCL in his left knee. Tavares will remain with the team until the end of the tournament rather than return to New York, where he will be re-evaluated and it will be determined whether he’ll undergo surgery. Luckily for the Canadians, they have no shortage of depth at forward. With Tavares out, Matt Duchene is slated to draw into the lineup, moving to his natural center position between Rick Nash and Patrick Sharp in what comprises Canada’s fourth line. Though Tavares has been a force for the Islanders this season -- he is also third in the NHL in scoring with 66 points -- he was held without a goal in the first four games of his Olympics debut.
3. Pesky Finns: After an emotion win to bounce host country Russia from the tournament in the quarterfinal Wednesday, the Finns may be the sleeper team to watch among the final four teams. Even without their top four centers in Mikko and Saku Koivu, Valtteri Fillpula and Sasha Barkov, the Finns bounced the Russians on home ice with a sound, structured, hard-working game. They frustrated the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, and may do so against a highly-touted Swedish squad as well. The Swedes are not without their fare share of injuries, either. Sweden is missing some of its brightest stars as well with captain Henrik Zetterberg bowing out with a back injury and without Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen.
4. Battle in nets: In a reprise of a stellar goaltending duel in last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal, two of the game’s elite netminders will go head-to-head with 2012 Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist of Sweden and Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask of Finland attempting to backtop their respective squads to the gold-medal game. Lundqvist has been spectacular with a 1.25 goals against average and .949 save percentage, but Rask has also been steady with a 2.30 goals against average and .918 save percentage.
5. Revenge factor: The U.S. needs no extra motivation to knock off their rivals to the North. Not only could they exact some revenge for their female counterparts -- who blew a 2-0 lead in the final minutes of gold-medal game to surrender a heart-breaking 3-2 sudden-death loss to Canada on Thursday -- but they still have 2010 fresh in their minds. The U.S. finished with a silver medal after Sidney Crosby’s overtime game-winner in the championship game in Vancouver.