HALIFAX – This evening's matchup between USA and Finland at the Halifax Metro Centre will be decided on goaltending and discipline. There's little doubt that they will play each other close.
Finland defeated Team USA 3-2 on Monday but that was only part of the story. The end of game scrum featured plenty of raw emotions on display. There was even the fight between David Backes and Antti Salmela, who was bloodied as a result.
Here comes the rematch.
But this is not a game to settle old scores. Instead, this is about advancing onto the semi-finals and both sides have this as their goal.
In beating Team USA, Finland showed the ability to come back. Three third period goals proved very important. They were also able to kill penalties, which also helped turn the tide against the Americans.
Saku Koivu, Ville Peltonen and Teemu Selanne will be counted upon to add timely scoring for the Finns. Mikko Koivu has been a leader and offensive dynamo. He leads the team in scoring with eight points.
Finland's attack has been fairly balanced with not enough talk given to Antti Pihlstrom, Jussi Jokinen, and Niko Kapanen for their superb play.
With such balance, the Finnish attack is going to be a tough one to stop.
Niklas Backstrom is Finland's number one goaltender. He's won four of the team's five games, posting a 2.40 goals against average.
Team USA has all the pieces to succeed at these World Championships. They are talented, skilled, young, and led by a Stanley Cup winning head coach.
While talented the USA has not shown in recent World Championship years that there is yet a scorer who inside of five minutes of a close game can take it over and create multiple chances for himself.
Canada has two in Rick Nash and Dany Heatley. Watch when they get the puck how they're thinking score. Not pass. If it means driving to the net, as Nash does, and causing havoc then so be it.
Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane might very well become that type of player. Kessel is enjoying the best World Championship since making his debut with the team in 2006.
Kane and Kessel are 1-2 in Team USA scoring. Kane has 10 points (3 goals and 7 assists); Kessel 9 points (5 goals and 4 assists), tied with Dustin Brown.
The American power play, ranked first in the tournament, must continue to lead the way. Despite the controversy surrounding Ville Koistenen's goal, the Americans had plenty of chances to put the game against Finland out of reach in the second period. Power play after power play opportunity was not converted. And the five minute major penalty on Olli Jokinen, which should have been a chance to extend their lead, led to nothing.
Goaltending is key. Esche has come a long way since training camp for this tournament began where he was the third goaltender behind Tim Thomas and Craig Anderson. Now he's the established number one due to Thomas' injury. John Tortorella will ride the Esche train as far as he can go.
Esche can play pressure games. Who could forget his World Championship debut in 2000 against Russia in St. Petersburg. Esche not only made a solid debut beating the Russians 3-0, but did so in front of a solidly Russian crowd.
Esche made several key saves in their game against Finland and will have to do the same today.