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World Championships medal round preview

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The two final matches are set, and there is a Leafs player on three of the teams and one we expect to see drafted on the fourth. That's three medals coming into the Leafs dressing room next year, it's just a question of who gets which colour.

By Pumpido75 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons
By Pumpido75 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Schedule

9:15am Toronto time
Bronze medal game: Russia vs USA

1:45pm Toronto time
Gold medal game: Finland vs Canada

Both games will be on TSN 1, 3, 4 and 5.

NBC Live Extra also has the USA game.

Preview

Bronze medal game

Russia had to be expecting to beat Finland in the semifinal. The fact that Finland quite handily withstood ten minutes of pressure, pulled even and won the game by a two-goal margin will not make the Russians happy heading into a bronze medal game.

The USA, played well over their heads, took Canada to the mat and lost by one goal in the third period. They, perhaps more now than after their upset win over the Czechs, can believe they are good enough to win a medal.

They might just do it.

In their semifinal, Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Yevgeni Kuznetsov and Sergei Mozyakin played a dominating amount of ice time along with the top defensive pair of Slava Voynov and Alexei Emelin for Russia. They were all over 20 minutes, with the exception of Emelin. They all had 0 points.

Nikita Zaitsev and Alexei Marchenko were the pair on the ice for most of the successful offence, including the lone Russian goal, and the bottom six forwards were usually the more effective against the Finns.

If Oleg Znarok keeps doling out icetime by seniority, he might hand the USA a victory.

The USA plays their lines in a less lopsided way, even if they have less depth. Nick Foligno and Auston Matthews are the top two always, but they aren't overused. The USA play a conservative and opportunistic style that will surely frustrate the Russians who love the wild and free style of hockey that is thrilling to watch but sometimes can't win against a good system.

The USA is weakest on the blueline, and they will need either a lacklustre effort by Russia or the best game of the tournament for the defensive corps led by Noah Hanifin and Chris Wideman in order to hold back that creative Russian offence.

Gold medal game

In the gold medal game, it's the undefeated Finns facing the only team more angry about losing to them than the Russians are. Team Canada does not like the word humiliation to be used when discussing their performance.

But Canada was shutout by Finland, who have been unstoppable so far. Canada will need a much tighter system, smarter play away from the puck and all offensive lines firing. Luckily, that's all four of them. Mark Stone and Mark Scheifele have been the class of the Canadian forwards, but even the worst of them offensively are so good at suppressing shots, it doesn't matter if they aren't getting very many of their own chances.

On a team where Connor McDavid can seem a bit mediocre, it's not a surprise everyone is playing really well. Captain Corey Perry is the only player on the team that hasn't produced good results overall.

The Finns seemed lighter on depth coming in to this tournament than either Russia or Canada, but their third line starring the sometimes forgotten man who was on the famous World Junior line with Puljujärvi and Laine, Sebastian Aho, was up to the task in the semifinals.

Neither of these teams like to lose, and both of them will bring their best efforts. If it comes down to Mikko Koskinen against Cam Talbot, the Finns might take it. If it comes down to offensive pressure, Canada has the edge.

On the blueline, Morgan Rielly has been quieter than you expect him to be, leaving the shooting and the scoring to the forwards while he plays more of a standard defensive role with partner Chris Tanev. Ryan Ellis and Ryan Murphy, the second unit, may be the better pair--Ellis scored the game-winning goal in the semifinals.

The Finns are led by a man you may never have heard of: Juuso Hietanen. He's playing for gold in his home rink, as he's a member of Moscow Dynamo in the KHL, and he has been a standout performer in this tournament with the Finnish top line of Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Leo Komarov. Hietanen's partner, Topi Jaakola also plays in the KHL for Jokerit.

This top unit hasn't been wowing on the highlight reels, but they are very good defensively, positionally smart, and that thing beloved by coaches, reliable at all times.

This game is too close to call. I expect it to be a tight game that has to be won at even-strength. Winner takes the gold, loser the silver, and then everyone goes home for the summer.