SOCHI, Russia — The Olympic men’s hockey tournament has reached the quarterfinals, and the favorites are one victory away from the chance to play for medals.
So are Slovenia and Latvia, who crashed the quarterfinal party with upset victories Tuesday in the qualification round.
Russia’s perilous meeting with Finland is the main event Wednesday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, where the tournament hosts will attempt to play their way into medal contention. The game is likely to be broadcast on big screens throughout the Olympic park, where the nervous home fans will cheer on Alex Ovechkin and his desperate teammates.
The Russians missed out on a bye to the quarterfinals, but tuned up for the bigger games with a 4-0 victory over Norway that might get their struggling offense on the move again. Russia hasn’t allowed a goal in more than 140 minutes, making up for its inconsistent offense with stellar goaltending.
“It is already do-or-die,” said Ovechkin, who hasn’t scored since the opening minutes of the tournament opener. “I’m pretty sure everybody is ready. Finland will be ready.”
Top-seeded Sweden opens the four-game slate against tiny Slovenia, which has recorded its first two Olympic hockey victories in Sochi. Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar’s team surprised Austria on Tuesday, earning an unlikely chance to face star goalie Henrik Lundqvist and the smooth Swedes, who went unbeaten in preliminary-round play.
In the evening games, Canada takes on Latvia at the same time the U.S. faces Jaromir Jagr and the Czech Republic.
Latvia earned its first trip to the quarterfinals with a 3-1 victory over Switzerland on Tuesday, showcasing a tight defensive game that could have a small chance against powerful Canada. Although Vancouver Olympics hero Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored a goal yet in Sochi, the unbeaten defending champions seem overdue for an offensive outburst to earn a trip to the semifinals.
The Americans also made a perfect run through the preliminary round, and were arguably the most impressive team last week with two blowout victories and a shootout win over the Russians.
After two days of worldwide attention for shootout hero T.J. Oshie, leading scorer Phil Kessel and goalie Jonathan Quick, the U.S. must figure out how to shut down the Czechs, who have enough offensive talent to cause problems for anybody.
“We’re confident, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” U.S. forward Ryan Kesler said. “The real test begins tomorrow and it’s win or go home.”