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Previewing the men's Olympic hockey playoff brackets

4:27 PM, Feb 16, 2014   |    comments
(Photo credit: USA Today Sports)
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The group stage is over and the seeding for the playoffs has been determined. Every team still has a shot at the gold medal but, from this point onward, it's win or go home.

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Seeds five through 12 will play in the qualification round while one through four get byes to the quarterfinals. The bracket is now locked and will not be adjusted per round to assure that the highest seed team always plays the worst squad. For example, if the 12th seed Norwegian team defeats Russia, the Norwegians will still face the fourth seeded Finnish squad, not the first seeded Swedes.

No. 8 Slovenia vs. No. 9 Austria

Just getting to this point is a victory for both teams, as Slovenia won its first-ever Olympic game in the group phase (over Slovakia) while Austria won at the Winter Games for the first time in 12 years (against Norway). This game won't have much in the way of star power as Slovenia has just one NHLer - Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar - while the Austrians have three in Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner and Michael Raffl.

Winner plays Sweden

No. 5 Russia vs. No. 12 Norway

The Russians have been underwhelming so far. They lost in a shootout to the United States and barely beat Slovakia, the latter result costing them a bye to the quarterfinals (but that might not be such a bad thing.) If nothing else, Russia can take comfort in the fact that Canada followed a similar path in the 2010 round robin and still ended up winning the tournament. As for the Norwegians, they've fallen on hard times since hanging tough with Canada in the tournament opener and were outscored 9-2 in losses to Finland and Austria.

Winner plays Finland

No. 6 Switzerland vs. No. 11 Latvia

A rematch from the opening game of the group stage, in which Simon Moser scored with eight seconds remaining to give Switzerland a 1-0 win. The Swiss have been air-tight defensively - allowing just one goal all tournament - but the Latvians have been competitive in every game thus far and, four years ago in Vancouver, nearly pulled a huge opening-round playoff upset by taking the Czechs to OT before losing.

Winner plays Canada

No. 7 Czech Republic vs. No. 10 Slovakia

Group mates at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the Czechs beat the Slovaks 3-1 on goals from their big guns: Patrik Elias, Tomas Plekanec and Jaromir Jagr. Neither team has been very impressive in Sochi, though the Slovakians gained a measure of confidence by taking Russia to a shootout in their final group game. The Czechs have been hampered by illness and questionable coaching decisions, but are getting good tournaments from Plekanec (two assists in three games) and Jagr (two goals in three games).

Winner plays U.S.

(Copyright © 2014 USA TODAY)

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