Tonight's semifinal game between Canada and Slovakia will be broadcast live on CNBC .The puck drops at 9:30 PM ET / 6:30 PM PT. NBCOlympics.com has a live stream if you're in the US.
Just as nobody expected the United States to perform so well in this Olympic tournament, it's much the same for Slovakia. They were buried in the extremely tough Group B during pool play, limiting their chance at success from the start. But an upset, 2-1 shootout victory over Russia in the preliminaries and then a quarterfinal win over second-seeded Sweden has them flying high.
Slovakia has never been to the medal round before, but their opponent has plenty of experience on that stage. Canada has won gold in 2002 and is in the process of avenging a terrible 2006 tournament that saw them finish seventh. They are well on their way now, just two wins away from the gold medal an entire country so desperately wants to call their own.
If Slovakia has proven one thing in this tournament, however, it's that they cannot be overlooked. Many people are already licking their chops at the possibility of a USA vs Canada meeting with gold on the line, but people were looking ahead to Canada vs Sweden before Slovakia had something to say about that.
How have the Slovaks been able to do what they've done in this tournament so far? Well, they aren't your run of the mill underdog, to start. They have 13 NHL players on their roster, including stars at each position. Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak has been incredible all tournament long, Marian Gaborik paces the offense and Zdeno Chara is the big man on the blueline, literally and figuratively.
The strong suit of the Slovaks game in this tournament has been their special teams. Of their 17 total tournament goals, they have score seven of them on the power play. Canada will have to stop their potent extra-man attack to neutralize the Slovak offense. Slovakia also leads the tournament on the penalty kill, going one for 19 thus far. Canada's power pay has been critical to their success, so this may be the matchup that decides the game.
Most of all, Slovakia has to get out in front of Canada early. They have to dictate the play as much as they can and get the partisan crowd silenced as quick as possible. They've already knocked off two behemoth's in these Olympics, but on Friday night they'll look to knock off the biggest of the bunch.
The winner will play the USA for gold on Sunday while the loser will face Finland for bronze on Saturday.