With the tone set by the last games of the round-robin games, I'm now into the whole Olympic games. From the Norway/Switzerland back-and-forth "nothing" game to the epic USA/Canada game-- the momentum of excitement going into the qualifying round is something that is contagious for now.
Obviously, the big question going into the qualifying round is no doubt what's going to happen with Canada. A team that had so much hype in their hometown Games, a team that was supposed to steamroll the competition has really come up short. With their struggles against Switzerland and then losing to the US; you have to wonder how vulnerable this team is. Maybe the tide will turn with Roberto Luongo in net (who should have been in against USA, but matter of opinion), yet if Germany comes out big against them, the threat of an upset could definitely be out there, as far fetched as it may seem.
Yet, to winning teams-- how will the bye-round effect those teams who won the right to do that?? The USA has a lot of heat and while the rest will be accepted, you may want to think that they want to keep going on with their momentum. Especially with them facing either Belarus or Switzerland in the Quarterfinal, it could be an upset special we're looking at. With the Russians, they'll face the winner of Canada/Germany-- which will be epic if Canada moves through. The only burp was against the Slovakia, which could be a downside when it comes to the elimination play. Finland has looked great as a team, but could be looking at the Czech Republic (if they beat Latvia); which could be another great game in the quarters. Finally, with the way Sweden has been playing, I don't know if either Slovakia or fan-favorite Norway could give an upset special-- which will give the reigning Gold Medalists a nice little path to the medal round.
When you look at the possible dark horse-- you have to see definitely give the advantage to whoever comes out of the battle of the fringe teams-- Switzerland/Belarus. Switzerland gave the USA and Canada fits in their games, thanks mostly to Jonas Hiller; who has been beyond amazing. The teamwork of the Swiss have been the reason they stay in their games. Belarus gave a fit to Sweden and took down Germany, but were definitely exposed by Finland in their first game. Considering what happened in 2002, the Belarussians could always be the shocker in all of this.
Of course, you look at all of these games, you could get a lot of good games from the qualifying games onward. When you look at how the bracket breaks down (which you can check at On the Forecheck), we have a chance of a Canada/Russia quarterfinal-- which could see one of the favorites not medaling at all; then you have the Swiss and Belarussians playing spoiler on the USA's run to the Gold Medal. Can't count out the Czech Republic with their bevvy of talent, either. Then the Finns and Swedes could give us another replay of 2006 if all goes to play, as well.
This will definitely be a nice precursor to the NHL playoffs coming up, especially with the deadline pretty much right after the Gold Medal game ends. This starts the three-and-a-half month long period where hockey fans go into their little hockey viewing mountain bases to take in all the games and all the intensity that comes with it all. Strap in folks, it's going to be a fun ride.