After a somewhat disappointing performance in preliminary round play Russia kicks off knockout round play on Tuesday against Norway.
Russia vs. Norway
Game time: 7:30 a.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. Sochi time
TV: NBCSN (USA), CBC (Canada)
Streaming: NBCOlympics.com (USA), Olympics.CBC.ca (Canada)
Having to play in the opening round of the knockout portion of the men's hockey tournament probably isn't the position Russia hoped to be in at this point during the 2014 Winter Olympics. But when you only win one of your preliminary round games in regulation, including needing a shootout to beat a Slovakia team that had been outscored 10-2 in its first two games, that is what is going to happen to you.
Fortunately for Russia, their opening round matchup is one that should give them passage to the quarterfinal barring a complete disaster of a performance against Norway, the bottom seed in the tournament after the preliminary round.
All things considered, the setup probably isn't really that bad for Russia and has kind of fallen its way, even with having to play what would be an additional game.
The knockout bracket seems to be heavily one-sided with the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia all on the same side and having to knock each other out over the next couple of days. If Russia gets through Norway -- which it should -- the next two opponents would potentially be two banged up teams in Finland and Sweden that are both without several top players.
Russia will be turning to the NHL's reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky, on Tuesday. Bobrovsky made just one appearance in the opening round, stopping 31 of 33 shots in a shootout loss to the United States on Saturday. Semyon Varlamov started the other two games -- both Russia wins -- including a shutout against Slovakia in their 1-0 shootout win.
On Tuesday he will be facing a Norway team that is badly outmanned in terms of offensive firepower, coming into the game with just one NHL player (Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers). Norway was held to just three goals in its first three games and was one of only two teams in the opening round to not record at least a point in the standings (Latvia being the other), getting outscored 12-3 in its three losses.
On paper, this is a game Russia should be able to win, and probably win easily. It should be the type of game that if Norway is going to have a chance in one of two things is going to have to happen: Bobrovsky is either going to have to have a complete meltdown of a game in the Russian net, or Norway goalie Lars Haugen is going to have to play the game of his life and steal one by himself.