ADLER, Russia -- The morning's headlines were as uninspired as Russia's play the night before, yet nevertheless to the brutal point.
"We Don't Need Ice Hockey Like That," the Sport Express said of Team Putin's 3-1 upset loss to Finland in the Olympic Games quarterfinals.
Now that Alex Ovechkin has made his annual early exit from a major tournament, taking his dysfunctional teammates with him, the Olympic tournament offers up Canada and the U.S., a rematch of the 2010 gold medal final and a game the sport has been craving for four years.
"We were destined and on a crash course to face each other," said U.S. and Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.
If Friday's other semifinal at the Bolshoy Ice Dome wasn't as anticipated as the North American border war, Finland and Sweden's renewal of Scandinavia's ancient rivalry still has plenty of headliners and intriguing storylines, not the least of which being Ducks forward Teemu Selanne's quest for just about the only thing that has eluded him in five previous Olympics -- a gold medal.
"I think there are two great rivalries here," U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said. "The Finns and the Swedes have a pretty strong rivalry too. I'm not sure they even get along too well."
"Of course we hate -- a little bit hate -- and love each other," Finland and Ducks defender Sami Vatanen said.
The sport -- certainly NBC and the CBC -- has been hoping for a U.S.-Canada rematch ever since Sidney Crosby burst onto a Jarome Iginla pass in sudden death overtime of the 2010 Olympic final and then fired it past U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller, touching off a nationwide celebration north of the border and sealing the classic's place right along side the Miracle On Ice as one of the Winter Olympics greatest moments.
"This is the game we all wanted," Bylsma said.
"It seems like we were on a crash course to meet those guys and we get our chance in the semis instead of the finals, which would have been a little more storybook with that rivalry rekindled," U.S. forward David Backes said. "But to win a gold medal here, you're going to have to beat the best teams in the tournament."
Canada is the first Olympic men's hockey champion to advance past the quarterfinals since the current format was adopted in 1992. But while the U.S. was rolling over the Czech Republic, 5-2, on Wednesday, Team Canada had its hands full with surprising Latvia in their 2-1 quarterfinal victory.
"We're where we want to be, right?" Canada forward Patrice Bergeron said.
Still there has been concern that Crosby, and Ducks forward Corey Perry and Jonathan Toews, Canada's two other goal scorers in the 2010 Olympic final, have yet to score a goal in this tournament.
"If the chances are there, you can't really do much besides make sure you focus on putting them in," said Crosby, who also overcame a similar slow start four years ago in Vancouver. "I don't think I'm second-guessing anything."
On the other side, U.S. and Toronto forward Phil Kessel has the hottest hand in the Olympics, scoring a tournament-leading five goals with three assists in four games.
"He was on fire in the NHL before we got here and he's brought that form with him," U.S. captain Zach Parise said of Kessel, who remains unimpressed with his Olympic scoring spree.
"That doesn't matter a thing to me," he said. "I'm here to win medals not to gain personal tributes."
Canada and the U.S. have decided the gold medal at two of the last three Olympics, the Canadians also winning in the 2002 final in Salt Lake City, and Friday night's winner will be large favorite in Sunday's gold medal game.
"It's the biggest in hockey, I think," Byslma said of the rivalry. "For a long time the Canadians have been expected to win tournaments, junior tournaments and international games and I think the Americans have challenged that in recent years."
And so while Russia woke up from its national nightmare Friday morning wondering if Siberia was still available for Ovechkin & Co., the rest of the sport was buckling up for the game it's wanted for four years.
"There is a lot of Canadians in our league (NHL) so obviously we want a better outcome than Vancouver," U.S. and Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty said. "And, no matter what, someone is going to hear about it for the next four years."
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