Trying to predict U.S.-Canada

I heard this a long time ago: It’s not the best team that wins, it’s the team that’s playing the best.

There’s no quantifiable evidence to prove that such a concept extends from one game to the next. In hockey, momentum is your starting goalie.

In assessing the U.S.-Canada semifinal Friday, American netminder Jonathan Quick and Canadian goalie Carey Price have had about the same Olympics, so, now what?

A cold-eyed look at the combatants in this border war based on results against their toughest opponents and most recent foes might stop you from picking either team.

The Americans needed a dislodged goal post and a ridiculous shootout rule to beat the Russians. The Canadians needed overtime to top Finland.

The Americans looked jet-lagged in losing races to loose pucks in their defensive zone in the first period before swamping the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. The Canadians needed more than 50 shots and a late power-play goal to beat Latvia.

The Americans and Canadians have arrived at this dramatic moment by playing opposing styles, the U.S. scoring the most goals and Canada allowing the fewest.

The Americans are playing fast and physical all over the ice, and they all seem to meet in the opponent's crease.

In fact, almost every goal against the Czechs in Wednesday’s 5-2 win that vaulted the Yanks into the semis was scored from within five feet of the paint.

The Americans got pucks and bodies to the net, and then got pucks into them. Even before they get to the slot, the Americans have forced their north-south game and added a physical element often missing from Olympics.

Remarkably, they have taken an international-size ice surface and played it like it was the narrower NHL sheet. Impressive stuff, that.

The Americans have scored more goals than Canada and have produced better balance in their offense. All four lines have scored for a U.S. team that was questioned about its offense heading to Sochi.

The Canadians were alleged to have the deepest talent at forward, but yet, the Canadian defensemen have done all the heavy lifting on offense. Drew Doughty has scored four goals while Shea Weber has nearly beheaded people with that weapons-grade shot that has gone in three times. That’s more than half of Canada’s 13 goals in four games.

But here’s the thing: Even if Canada’s big names have had trouble scoring, they’re still the most talented roster the Americans will have faced -- they’re still Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby and Corey Perry and the rest of them.

Which brings us back to Canada’s having the best team, but without any quantifiable difference that screams one country over the other, I’m picking the Americans because they look like the team that’s playing the best.

CHICAGO

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