Thirty-four years have passed since the Miracle on Ice, perhaps the greatest moment in Team USA Olympic Hockey history and this Saturday the two sides will wage another war in group play so I’m here to bring you my expert picks on what is expected to be a thrilling matchup. Make no mistake – the gravity of this game is immense but if Team USA beats Team Russia (click here to view game odds) it won’t be a miracle even though it would still register as an upset.
It’s hard not to think about what this game means to the Russian players. Do they care about the Miracle on Ice? Is it an infected thorn in their side that Americans poke and job at too much? We’re talking about an international side that has won four world championships and has medaled in two Olympic Games. The history of Russian hockey is far richer and much more celebrated than its American counterpart. We just don’t realize it because we’re exposed to the Western media.
Making experts picks on Team USA vs. Team Russia has to eliminate sentimentality. That’s really important to remember. The Russians are coming off a 5-2 clobbering of Slovenia where Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin seemed virtually unstoppable on the top line together. They outshot Slovenia 35-18 through three periods and are well justified as the second favorite to win gold behind Canada, especially when you consider that they’re the host team. Like Canada did in the Vancouver games, Team Russia will receive a massive boost from the crowd.
Not to be outdone, Team USA blasted Slovakia out of the dome on Thursday with a 7-1 score that sent shockwaves through the western world. This included a five goal barrage in the second period with Ryan Kesler, Paul Stastny, David Backes, Dustin Brown and Phil Kessel all registering twine finders in the back of the net. Even more important was the steady hand of L.A. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
Making a Team USA vs. Team Russia expert pick begins and ends, in my opinion, with Quick. He will be facing an obscene amount of shots from the faster and more capable Russian stable. Quick recorded 22-of-23 saves in the win over Slovakia and looked as rock solid as ever. I admire Quick as a goal tender but the matchup he’s facing against a blazing Russian team is a seriously tough matchup.
Semyon Varlamov might not be as well know as his opposite, but the Russian goal tender has been a pillar in Colorado and he’s used to playing on international ice as well. He’s earned a gold and silver medal with the Team Russia in the 2012 and 2010 World Championships. Given the choice between the stoic Quick and the up and coming Varlamov in these particular circumstances, I’m going with Team Russia over Team USA in my expert picks.
This game essentially comes down to pressure, and I think that this game simply means more to the Americans than it does to the Russians. The former is desperate to prove themselves as a group amongst the best in the world, while the hosting Russians are confident in their abilities as a team. The sentimental pick is a repeat of the Miracle on Ice but if you want a Team Russia vs. Team USA expert pick from yours truly, I think you play it smart and take Russia as a two-goal winner at +165.
Expert Pick – Team Russia -1.5 (+165) over Team USA