U.S. dominates Czech Republic and Canada survives Latvia to set up Olympic semis clash in Sochi

U.S. dominates Czech Republic and Canada survives Latvia to set up Olympic semis clash in Sochi

It’s the one Olympic matchup every American hockey fan has wanted for almost four years now and, by virtue of Wednesday’s respective results in Sochi, it’s less than 48 hours away.

The United States whitewashed Jake Voracek, Jaromir Jagr and the rest of the Czech Republic, 5-2, and Canada hung on for a 2-1 over Latvia (!) to set up a titanic rematch of the 2010 gold medal game in Vancouver that could be louder than that THUNDER SNOW that shook your house Wednesday morning.

The U.S. got a quick jump on the Czechs when James van Riemsdyk -- who was traded for Luke Schenn, who is not an Olympian -- beat netminder Ondrej Pavelec from a terrible angle just under two minutes into the game.

The Czechs tied it up shortly thereafter but the Americans regained the lead when David Backes slid a beautiful cross-ice pass to Dustin Brown, who jammed it home. Backes then scored from an impossible angle with just 1.8 seconds left in the first period for a 3-1 lead and the backbreaker.

Zach Parise ended Pavelec’s day with another goal from a miserable angle to make 4-1 early in the second period and that was all she wrote. Phil Kessel scored in third and the Czechs added a garbage-time goal before the buzzer sounded but the Americans already had their tickets punched to the semis.

Jonathan Quick made 21 saves for the U.S. in the victory.

The Canada/Lativa game was a whole different monster for a variety of reasons but mostly because of the Canadians’ inability to put the Latvians away.

Patrick Sharp scored early to put Canada on top 1-0. But the Latvians quickly answered with a breakaway goal to knot things up.

That’s when Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis – don’t even ask for a proper pronunciation of that mouthful – took over and stole the show.

Gudlevskis was superb in making 55 - count ‘em - 55 saves for his team, which was outshot 57-16 in the game. He had almost every answer.

The key word there was almost because defenseman Shea Weber – who has found his way into every Flyers fan’s dreams for years now – blasted home a power-play goal from the point for the game-winning tally late in the third period

After Canada’s close call, here we are with the mother of all rematches and a trip to the gold medal game on the line.

So then, who has the edge?

A glance at the rosters seems to show the Americans have better goaltending, the Canadians have better defensemen and the respective groups of forwards are a toss-up.

That’s why they play the games, though.

Canada has scored 13 goals through four games in the tournament so far. That’s good for 3.25 goals per game. But that’s very misleading for a few reasons.

Canada’s six-goal performance against lowly Austria was the only time it scored more than three goals in a game. Also, Canada’s forwards have grossly underperformed. Forwards have scored just six of Canada’s 13 goals, and four of those six goals came against the overmatched Austrians.

In fact, Weber and fellow defenseman Drew Doughty have combined for the other seven goals.

All that against defenses like Norway, Austria and Latvia that have played much worse than the Americans’ defense.

On the other hand, the Americans are averaging five goals per game and their lowest goal output so far was three when they met the Russians in that instant classic this past Saturday.

With five goals, Kessel himself has nearly as many goals as all Canadian forwards.

The mostly young U.S. defense has impressed as well. That corps has let up just six goals in four games. Of course it helps having Quick and Ryan Miller between the pipes, but still quite the feat. Just look at the way guys like Ryan McDonough and Cam Fowler played against the uber-talented (and disappointing) Russians. They smothered the skilled Russians into submission.

So, I’m giving the edge to the Americans due to offensive balance, better performances against more skilled teams than Canada has faced and because they are playing a better overall team game right now.

But don’t get it wrong. Canada is still incredibly dangerous

Oh, baby. It’s on.

Get ready, Canada. We’re coming for you.

And, in the spirit of a totally unbiased journalist, go ‘Merica.

Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov show glimpses, Alex Lyon stars in Flyers' split-squad loss

Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov show glimpses, Alex Lyon stars in Flyers' split-squad loss

NEWARK, N.J. — Split-squad games have their advantages and disadvantages.

The Devils presented a hefty NHL-laden lineup against a Flyers unit with one NHL forward — Scott Laughton — Monday night at the Prudential Center.

Not surprisingly, the Devils won, 2-0. Among the prospects to watch in this one were forward Travis Konecny and defenseman Ivan Provorov.

The one player who absolutely shined in this was goalie Alex Lyon, who finished with 29 saves on 30 shots.

Konecny was again at right wing but this time on Andy Miele’s line with Laughton, who’s been at left wing all camp.

“Miele can distribute the puck and makes plays and Scotty Laughton brings a more veteran presence and some power and speed on the left wing,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Add the ability that Travis has, it fits pretty well with those two.”

Konecny worked on the first-unit power play in the right slot. He lost a puck in the corner, regained it and fed Corban Knight for a near goal in the paint.

He had a shot, turnover and hit going into the final period and handled himself well against older veterans.

During a third-period power play, with the Flyers behind, 1-0, he got a rebound in the high slot but chose to pass the puck rather than reposition himself for a shot on goalie Anders Lindback.

Lyon impressive
Lyon, the free-agent goalie signed out of Yale, was under siege in the opening period, facing 13 shots. The Devils had a stacked veteran lineup against mostly kids from the Flyers.

He was very good, especially playing the angles from which the Devils like to attack. He also stopped Beau Bennett on a breakaway out of the penalty box with his right pad.

Lyon had a sliding pad save on Bennett in the second period, as well, off a two-on-none break.

Provorov debut
He was paired with Brandon Manning and played the left side.

The 19-year-old Russian showed some speed and worked on the first-unit power play with Konecny. Provorov did some nice stickwork to get around Devils veteran Travis Zajac on the forecheck in the first period.

One aspect that stood out as the game progressed was that Provorov’s passes on the breakout were too quick for his forwards to handle. He’s that talented that he gets the puck and it’s gone before they can catch it in stride.

Lyubimov debut 
Another forward battling for a roster spot is Russian center Roman Lyubimov, who played right wing on Anthony Salinitri’s line with Connor Bunnaman.

He’s very quick to chasing down pucks off the faceoff and very strong in battling for position or puck possession in tight spaces.

He worked the penalty kill in Russia and was on the first unit here, where he had a blocked shot.

Loose pucks 
The Flyers fell to the Islanders, 3-0, in their other game. Anthony Stolarz started in net and made 33 saves. ... With a split-squad game and the Flyers missing players because of the World Cup of Hockey, they had only three NHLers in their lineup vs. the Devils: Laughton, Manning and South Jersey’s T.J. Brennan. … Laughton had a nifty chance late in the second period and missed everything. … The Devils got a goal from Nick Lappin soon after on a second rebound. Nothing Lyon could do. … The Flyers actually outshot the Devils, 10-9, that stanza. … The Devils had an empty-net goal at the end. ... Tuesday’s game at the Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders will be televised on TCN.

Elton Brand on national anthem protests: Sixers working with NBA, having 'discussions internally'

Elton Brand on national anthem protests: Sixers working with NBA, having 'discussions internally'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Pockets of NBA players have increasingly started to speak up about what they believe to be racial and social injustices taking place in the United States.

With San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem sparking protests from other players around the NFL and various sports, now the NBA as a whole is preparing for potential protests prior to games.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association union executive director Michele Roberts came together last week to formulate a joint letter to players to express how the two sides plan to take "meaningful action."

Whatever that action is, Sixers veteran Elton Brand is all for it and the overall discussion of issues going on around the country.

"There are e-mails and direct texts from the NBPA. We’re working with the NBA. They’re going to talk to us soon,” Brand said. “My thing is if you want to stand up for something, that’s a good thing. Especially in America, the tensions and the injustices that are going on right now. 

“Even in our locker room we’re discussing who feels like this, who feels like what and ways that we can display how we feel about things. I’m all for it. I stand behind it and stand with other athletes and people that want to stand for a cause. Whatever their cause is, they want to stand for a cause. Our cause may be different.”

The NBA is significantly more diverse than the NFL, and Brand even admitted it’s been an eye-opening experience having talks about issues affecting African Americans inside a locker room with players from around the globe.

“We have a lot of international players,” he said. “I’m looking around the room and there are seven people that aren’t from this country. So you talk about the flag, talk about the constitution and to them it’s like, ‘I represent America because I’m working here, but I’m pro-Spain and I have problems there, too.’ We’re all sorting it out. We’ve had discussions internally also. I’m looking forward to what the NBPA and the NBA have to offer."

What the league and players association come up with will likely serve as something other than protesting during the actual anthem. Unlike the NFL, the NBA has a rule in place that explicitly states players, coaches and trainers must stand on the foul line or sidelines in a dignified posture during the playing of national anthems.

If Sixers players do ultimately decide on some sort of protest before games, they will have the support of the organization to express their rights.

"We haven't been together collectively long enough to have a real robust discussion about it," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said. "I think we just addressed it briefly this morning with the players in an opportunity to say the following. Basically, we as an organization are going to be supportive of the views of our players. As the league and the players association formulate perhaps an approach, they've already circulated some information to teams. Things are probably still at the discussion phase. I hope to think that's where things are with our players, that they're still at the discussion phase. 

"Once again, I'm assuming that there will be a desire to express an opinion or viewpoint. I've always been supportive of people in society having freedom to express a viewpoint. Again, going back to the league and the players association, in a positive way I think they've always been out in front of some of these social issues and if they can affect social change in a positive way they probably will. You can just anticipate that there's still some unknowns to this, but you can estimate that we will be supportive as an organization as to how our players want to express their views."