Who: Team USA vs. Russia
Where: The Bell Centre in Montreal
When: 1pm EST
How to Watch: The game will be shown on NHL Network, or streamed live via NHL.com
What's at stake?: It's win-or-go-home time in the tournament. The winner meets the winner of Sweden/Finland in the semifinals of the tournament. The loser is done until next year.
How'd they get here?:
The US finished second in Group A in the the preliminary round with two wins(Germany and Slovakia), one overtime win(Finland) and one loss(Canada). Russia finished tied for second in Group B with one win(Switzerland), one overtime win(Denmark), and two losses(Sweden and Czech Republic). They lost the tiebreaker to the Czech Republic to finish third in the group.
Who to watch for the Russians:
Goalie will be a toss-up, with each of Russia's top two goalies each seeing two starts. Ilya Sorokin was the presumed #1 coming into the tournament, but Igor Shestyorkin posted a shutout in the Russian's win over Switzerland, and earned the start in Russia's final prelim game against Czech Republic. Russia lost that game, but the whole team laid an egg. I can't find an announced starter yet, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see either goalie start. I only saw the two Shestyorkin starts, but my general impression is that both goalies are good, but neither is as fearsome as Andrei Vasilevsky was last year for the Russians.
The Russians don't necessarily rely on one or two superstars. No Russian averaged a point-per-game in the preliminary round. The most dangerous and exciting forward is small forward Sergei Tolchinski. He's an explosive skater and very creative with the puck.
Forwards Nikolai Goldobin and Ivan Barbashev are both first round NHL Draft picks, while Pavel Buchnevich was a third round pick, but a very dangerous goal scorer.
On defense, the Russians are huge. The only D that measures under 6'2" is former Cedar Rapids(USHL) D Ivan Provorov, who is solidly built and not afraid to throw his weight around. Provorov is a project first round pick in this year's NHL Draft.
What is Russia's style of play?
In some ways, playing Russia will be almost the exact opposite of playing against Canada. While Canada was extremely aggressive, sometimes sending two forwards in deep on the forecheck and looking to make a hit behind the net, Russia is extremely passive. There's token pressure from one forward in the forecheck, with the other two forwards dropping back to the neutral zone.
In some ways that is good. For all the time the US spent in their own end against Canada, I thought the defense did a pretty decent job of gaining possession of the puck. The issues came with making that second pass out of the zone. Facing less pressure in their own end should help with that.
The bad news is that the US has struggled with offensive zone entry and making skill plays off the rush, and that's only going to get harder against Russia's clogged neutral zone. Russia can also be deadly counterattacking on neutral zone turnovers.
While they've got some size, the Russians aren't necessarily going to be banging in a lot of goals in traffic. If Thatcher Demko stays locked in like he was against Canada, he should be able to handle the high number of perimeter shots Russia takes.
Russia's top power play unit has four forwards, with defenseman Rushan Rafikov at the top of point. They always keep one forward in the slot and one at the side of the net. It's a system that allows for a lot of creativity and freelancing though, especially from the two high forwards. The US will need to stay disciplined and communicate through numerous switches when Russia is working the puck around the perimeter.
Forget about Russia's embarrassing effort in their last prelim game against the Czech Republic or going to a shootout with Denmark to start the tournament. This is a team that knows it is good enough to medal and isn't going to want to go home in the quarterfinals.
Getting a lead in this game will be key for the United States. I have a lot of confidence in this US team if they're protecting a lead. If they fall behind, I don't have much confidence in them to find the offense they need to get back in that game. That was what happened last year when, after a wide open first two periods, Russia came into the third period with a lead and just completely shut down the US offensive attack.
The other key will be winning the special teams battle. Last year, Russia scored back-to-back power play goals while the US was held quiet with the man advantage. The US power play has been bad in this tournament, though they at least got one goal against Canada. They'll likely need at least a goal with the man advantage tomorrow.
This is certainly a game that the United States can win, but it's much more of a toss-up than one would hope in the quarterfinal round. They'll likely need another exceptional performance in goal from Thatcher Demko, and a couple bounces to go their way offensively if they want to advance in the tournament.