Written By: Mike Ulatoski

United States (2-0-0-0, 6 points) vs. Canada (1-1-0-0, 5 points)

NOTE: records are presented as: three-point wins (wins in regulation time) – two-point wins (wins in OT or shootout) – one-point losses (loss in OT or shootout), zero-point losses – (loss in regulation time).

What To Watch For:

This game will decide the Group A title, which gives the winning team a bye into Wednesday’s quarterfinals. Despite the one-point difference between the teams, the winner of Sunday’s game will advance. If the Canadians win in overtime or a shootout, the teams will be tied with seven points, but Canada would get the bye because of the preliminary round’s head-to-head record against the Americans. The second-place team in this group would still be in the running for the fourth bye into the quarterfinals, given to the team with the best record of the three second-place finishers. If the loser of Sunday’s game does not get the fourth bye, it will have to play in Tuesday’s win-or-go-home qualification game against one of the bottom three teams in pool play.

This game is about a lot more than seeding. It is about national pride between two mortal enemies, a rivalry that brings out the best in both teams. The winner will get an unbelievable boost in confidence heading into the quarterfinals, while the loser will have precious time to do some serious regrouping.

Last game – United States defeated Norway, 6-1, on Thursday; Canada defeated Switzerland, 3-2, in a shootout on Thursday.

Team Reports

United States – Despite winning the first two games of the tournament in regulation, the Americans are still looking for answers as this game approaches. They have been able to get their first line – Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Paul Stastny – on track.  Now, the U.S. is thinking about playing Kane with Bobby Ryan and Ryan Kesler, to give Kane more freedom to freelance. This means that New Jersey’s Jamie Langenbrunner would likely move up to play with Parise, his Devils’ teammate, and Stastny.

So far, the Americans have been carried offensively by traditional power forwards. Ryan Malone has a goal in each game, and The Real American David Backes has been devastating on the forecheck. They are also confident in goalie Ryan Miller, who has been spectacular at times and on top of his game, despite not facing a ton of shots.  Much of the downtime for Team USA’s coaches before Sunday’s game was spent talking about the power play, which has struggled mightily in going 2-for-8 so far in the tournament. American coach Ron Wilson believes it is just a matter of timing on the breakout portion of the man-advantage scheme and that it can be readily fixed. He also wants his defensemen to shoot early and often on the power play, something they have been reluctant to do so far.

Canada – There are the slightest hints of panic in and around the Canadian camp after Switzerland erased a two-goal deficit Thursday to push the game to a shootout. In that game, a few holes were exposed in the Canadian lineup. Both coach Mike Babcock and GM Steve Yzerman have been trying to ease the worry, insisting that everything is fine. They can say whatever they want; there are questions surrounding this team.

First, who will play in goal going forward? Babcock has already said that Martin Brodeur is his goalie on Sunday, but Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo pitched a shutout against Norway and is the hometown favorite. There will be pressure to get him another game. Also, who will play wing on Sidney Crosby’s line? Several players — including Jarome Iginla, Patrice Bergeron and Mike Richards — have been given chances. We’ll have to wait and see who plays alongside Crosby on Sunday. Finally, can this team keep its cool as the pressure mounts? Defenseman Chris Pronger was in the midst of committing a retaliatory penalty when the Swiss scored the goal that tied the game 2-2 in the second period. The Canadians might not be able to keep their cool as the Games continue, and as the weight of winning gold gets heavier. Babcock admitted many of his players were squeezing their sticks in the last 10 minutes of regulation and throughout overtime against the Swiss, as the Canadian fans in the crowd grew restless. Is the pressure of winning gold on home ice too much for this Canadian team?

“I thought the game turned when they got their first goal,” Babcock said. “We tightened up. In every championship I’ve been a part of, your team has to go through adversity and we were able to survive it.” The fact that a close win is considered adversity shows how closely this team is being watched.

Total NHL players on rosters — USA 23; Canada 23.

Puck Drop

The Canada-USA game is the biggest matchup of the preliminary round, with both teams featuring some of the world’s best players.  With Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur between the pipes, Sunday’s game features the marquee goaltending matchup of the entire tournament.  Once this game ends, we are going to know whether Brian Burke’s youthful, energetic U.S. squad has the jam to play with the world’s best. We are going to find out a lot about this team’s character, intensity, and maturity, and even though it is not an elimination game, it looms as the biggest game in which most of these U.S. players have ever played. As a nation, the United States’ game Sunday night looms as its most important international contest since the gold-medal game in Salt Lake City in 2002.  This game will be a gauge of Team USA’s cohesion, chemistry, and will to win in big games.

As a number of U.S. players pointed out, the Canadians will embarrass them in a hurry if they don’t play smart.

But in the backs of their minds, they’re also thinking about the alternative – beating the Canadians in their own backyard, and announcing to the rest of the teams in this tournament that the Americans are here, and they are for real.

Prediction

This game will be a battle, plain and simple; great goaltending, tenacious hitting, and relentless offensive attacks from both teams. Both teams will come out looking sloppy for about the first ten minutes or so, given the atmosphere that will be in Hockey Place tonight and the emotions that will be running through every player. After the Americans slumbered their way through long periods of time of their win over Norway, they have ramped up all elements of their game. From forechecking to breakouts, to defensive play to the power play, this US team is focused on making big plays and doing all the little things right. The US announces to the rest of the hockey world that they are here to win a medal, and that announcement will be made tonight. The US pulls out a hard-fought victory over Canada, 3-2 in regulation.

Shot Calling – goal for Phil Kessel and Jamie Langenbrunner tonight.