Predictions for the play-in games
Key matchups and picks for qualification contests, including Russia-Norway
For some countries, winning a play-in game is similar to being the 64th team to make the NCAA tournament. Several teams will celebrate simply having the chance to face off with one of the big boys in Sochi.
But as was the case with Team Canada in Vancouver, one of the tournament's preordained favorites will have to win an extra game if it is ultimately going to win gold. And you never know which team could rise from the play-in round to upset a top team, as when Slovakia beat No. 2 seed Sweden in 2010.
Here is a look at the play-in games, including a key matchup in each and our prediction for each contest's winner:
No. 5 Russia vs. No. 12 Norway
Winner plays: No. 4 Finland
Through the opening round, Ovechkin ranks first and Malkin fifth in shots taken among all skaters, with a combined 31. Thus far, that has resulted in only two Russian goals, with each man scoring within the first four minutes of their opening game against Slovenia. But they can be held off the score sheet for only so long. Look for both superstars to continue taking more than their share of shots at the Norwegian goal.
Norway goaltender Haugen is one of only three players on the club to play in the KHL. He may have seen Russian team standouts like Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Radulov, but has not faced the likes of Ovechkin and Malkin. Norway is still a long shot, but a little less so if it can keep Russia's two best players off the board. Expect the Norwegians to play a defense-first style, but for the Russian squad to find enough gaps to advance easily to the next round in front of a raucous home crowd. -- Wagman
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