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The preliminary round is over. Now it’s either win or go home.
After the first week of the men’s hockey tournament wrapped up with a fine day of matchups, all of the Canadiens’ Olympians will now set their sights on reaching the medal round. For four of them, they’ll first have to survive a qualification game on Tuesday.
Tomas Plekanec, Jaroslav Halak, Sergei Kostitsyn and Yannick Weber are faced with a bump in the road on their Olympic journey, while Andrei Markov and his Russian teammates sit back and wait for a quarterfinal opponent. Depending on the results, the Habs’ contingent could be left with as few as two by the end of the night.
One certainty is that the team will be down at least one representative. Switzerland and Belarus finished group play with three points apiece, forcing a qualification tilt between the two.
Kostitsyn will be pitted against Weber as he tries to improve on his team and tournament-high five points. The Canadiens winger has two goals and three assists in three outings, tying him with the likes of Dany Heatley, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. He’s also been the second-most utilized forward (and fourth overall) on the Belarusian squad, logging an average of 17:23 per night; only Konstantin Koltsov has seen more ice time among the attackers.
It hasn’t been as memorable a week for Weber. The young Swiss defender has struggled – no points, one shot on goal, minus-2 – and heading into the playoff games, was averaging just 6:27 minutes per contest.
The game is the first of four on tap; the winner moves on to face Team USA.
Czechs take on Latvia, Slovakia faces Norway
Plekanec and Halak are featured in the second half of Tuesday’s schedule, both looking to keep up their respective strong performances. The Canadiens’ leading point-getter is also his country’s top goal-scorer thus far, netting one in each game he’s played; two have come on the power play.How many Habs Olympians do you think will win medals?(survey)
One of those games included Friday’s 5-2 Czech Republic win over Latvia, who provides the opposition in the qualification playoff. Plekanec completed that contest with four shots on goal and a plus-2 differential (in addition to his tally), while skating for just over 17 minutes.
Halak, meanwhile, has been exactly what the Slovaks were hoping for in tabbing him as the go-to guy. Insufficient goaltending is now a thing of the past, the 24-year-old backstop having given up just four goals in three games ahead of their date with Norway. Only Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist, with one less game and undoubtedly more depth in front of him, has bettered Halak’s numbers. The Bratislava native, who led his team to an important shootout win over the Russians, has compiled a 1.30 goals-against average, .951 save percentage, and posted a shutout.
A victory over the Norwegians would set up a goaltending duel between the tournament’s top two masked men. Another Czech Republic triumph over Latvia would see Plekanec and his teammates face Finland.
While his NHL teammates face an extra step on the road to potential Olympic gold, Markov sits back and waits for one more day. He won’t face any fellow Canadiens come quarterfinal action, though he might be facing Canadians; Russia takes on the winner of Canada-Germany.
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