If the U.S. men's hockey management team could have laid out how it wanted the Olympic tournament to unfold, it probably would not be too different than it is now.
SOCHI, Russia - If the U.S. men's hockey management team could have laid out how it wanted the Olympic tournament to unfold, it probably would not be too different than it is now.
The Americans could not have hoped for a much better situation than they face.
The USA is unbeaten and owns the No. 2 seed. The Americans have no significant injuries. They have achieved the objective of being hard to play against. Their goaltending seems settled with Jonathan Quick as the No. 1. They have proved they can score goals. They have anointed a national hero in T.J. Oshie. The Americans are a confident bunch.
The Americans have a bye through to the quarterfinals, where they will play the Czech Republic or Slovakia. They have already thumped Slovakia 7-1, and they would be favored against the Czechs.
If they reach the semifinal, they are assured of playing in either the bronze or gold medal game.
Sure, they likely will have to play Canada in the semifinal. But you have to expect to face Canada if you have designs on winning the gold medal.
Phil Kessel is red-hot.
Ryan Kesler and Backes have played like beasts at center. Patrick Kane looks dangerous. The USA's defensive play is sound.
The Americans didn't have the same jump against Slovenia they had when they beat Russia 3-2 in a shootout a day earlier. But that could have been predicted. It was the second of back-to-back games, and the fast-paced, intense, emotional and physical battle against Russia had to have sapped some energy out of the Americans.
They should, however, be well rested when they return to action Wednesday, while their opponent will be playing for the second day in a row.
The No. 4 Finns will have a much tougher quarterfinal matchup because they likely will meet the Russians. And the No. 3 Canadians could face Switzerland, a team that has a history of putting a scare into them, in the quarterfinals.
None of this guarantees the U.S. men's team anything. Upsets happen all the time. Predicting outcomes of international tournaments is a fool's errand.
All we can say is that the path is clear for the Americans to reach one of the medal games or at least as clear as they hoped it would be.