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vancouver games

Your Guide to the Olympic Hockey Semifinals

We're sure our readers in Helsinki and Bratislava would beg to differ, but a United States–Canada gold-medal game just feels right, doesn't it? The Canadians trying to avenge their loss in the preliminary round. The Americans trying to turn the tables on Canada, who beat them for the gold on Salt Lake ice in 2002. Russia-Canada was the dream championship game for hockey junkies, but to the larger Olympic-viewing audience, this is the ideal matchup. (We suspect that most hockey junkies are rooting for it now, too.) We'll know by tonight if it's going to happen. After the jump, a look at both of today's semifinal games.

United States vs. Finland, 3 p.m.
The 2–0 score of the United States' win over Switzerland in the quarterfinals was a little misleading: The United States controlled play for much of the game, and the Americans got plenty of chances against a very good defensive team. But Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller was outstanding, and until Zach Parise scored in the empty net to clinch the victory, Hiller kept his club within a goal, when anything could happen. The United States could find themselves in a similarly low-scoring affair today: Miikka Kiprusoff has been outstanding in this tournament, and is coming off a shutout against the Czech Republic. And though it's true that the Finns caught something of a lucky break on the go-ahead goal in that one, thanks to the IIHF's go-get-your-helmet-if-it-falls-off rule, they're a more dangerous offensive team than Switzerland, and should apply much more pressure against Ryan Miller and the American defense. Thus far, the American blue-liners have been up to the challenge. (Erik Johnson, in particular, has really impressed.) For the United States to win gold, they're going to have to go undefeated, something else no other team left will have to do. But when you're playing well, you're playing well. And right now, this team is playing really well.

Canada vs. Slovakia, 9:30 p.m.
We've already drawn the comparison between this Canadian team and the one from 2002 that struggled early before turning a corner and winning out to take home the gold. And sure enough, they've looked unbeatable in front of Roberto Luongo over the last two games, especially in their quarterfinals win over Russia. The crowd's on their side now: The fans in GM Place Canada Hockey Place appear to have come full circle, from supportive and enthusiastic to disappointed and angry, then back to supportive and enthusiastic. Probably also a good sign: They scored seven goals on Wednesday, and while their lines have generally been clicking, Sidney Crosby wasn't much of a factor. So they may still have another gear, if that's possible. The Canadians won't coast into the finals though: Slovakia impressed by bending but not breaking against defending champion Sweden, and though they're not as deep with NHL talent, their top guns can match up with anyone in the world.

Photo: Harry How/Getty Images (Zach Parise), Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images (Miikka Kiprusoff), Bruce Bennett/Getty Images (Corey Perry), Jamie Squire/Getty Images (Marian Gaborik)