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.

Maikel Franco day to day with sore wrist

Maikel Franco day to day with sore wrist

PITTSBURGH -- Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco, who was hit on the left wrist by a pitch on Friday night, is not in the starting lineup for Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates (see lineup).

Franco was hit by a pitch from the Pirates’ Gerrit Cole in the first inning of the Phillies’ 4-0 victory then was removed after hitting a single in the third inning (see story).

“He’s still sore,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Saturday. “He’s day to day. Maybe he will be back in the lineup (Sunday).

Franco suffered a fracture of the same wrist last August when he was hit by a pitch.

Andres Blanco is taking Franco’s place in the lineup after having two hits Friday night when he replaced the third baseman. Blanco is hitting .264 with three home runs in 73 games this season and is reportedly drawing some interest from contending teams looking to add bench help.

“I could see why he would be a desirable player,” Mackanin said. “We’re not going to give him away, though, if we do trade him. He’s played very well for us.”

Source: Brayden Schenn spurns Flyers' 2-year offer, wants $5.5 million

Source: Brayden Schenn spurns Flyers' 2-year offer, wants $5.5 million

It looks like the Flyers and Brayden Schenn are heading towards arbitration. 

A source tells CSNPhilly.com Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio that the Flyers and Schenn's camp are at odds over the salary of Schenn's next contract.

Schenn turned down a two-year deal worth $4.25 million in the first year and $4.369 million in the second, according to the source, noting that Schenn is looking for a deal that would pay him $5.5 million this upcoming season.

Schenn is coming off a career year, setting career highs in goals (26) and points (59), and is now looking to cash in on his best season. Last season, Schenn earned $2.75 million.

General manager Ron Hextall has repeatedly said he believes a deal will get done, but at the moment nothing looks imminent.

Schenn's arbitration hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Today's Lineup: Andres Blanco in, Maikel Franco out after HBP last night

Today's Lineup: Andres Blanco in, Maikel Franco out after HBP last night

After being hit on the wrist by a pitch in Friday's win (see story), Maikel Franco will not play today. Instead, Andres Blanco will take his place, hitting third in the lineup. Blanco was 2 for 2 replacing Franco in the third inning on Friday, with an RBI and a run scored. 

Blanco has been reliable when called upon this season, hitting .264 with a .317 OBP in mostly a utility role.

Other than that, the lineup remains the same as Friday.

Peter Bourjos will leadoff after going 0 for 5 last night, followed by Odubel Herrara. After an All-Star first half, Herrara has hit .211 in July, but seemed to get back on track with three hits on Friday, while scoring two runs. 

After a brutal stretch of games and an extended All-Star break, Aaron Nola returned to form vs. the Marlins last week, tossing six shutout innings. Nola again looks to prove the doubters wrong again today vs. the Pirates, who he has never faced in his brief career. 

Here is tonight's lineup:

1. Peter Bourjos RF
2. Odubel Herrera CF
3. Andres Blanco 3B
4. Tommy Joseph 1B
5. Cameron Rupp C
6. Cody Asche LF
7. Freddy Galvis SS
8. Cesar Hernandez 2B
9. Aaron Nola P