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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Notes from Vancouver: Staal upended, Pitkanen suspended

Posted by on Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 2:29 AM

Three out of four of the teams containing ‘Canes players are headed to the 2010 Olympic semifinals. Woah.

In case you're severely behind or can't stay up late enough to catch all the action from Vancounver, Carolina’s representatives have thrived on the international stage so far. Unless something very strange happens (more than likely involving time travel,) at least one 'Cane is assured of a medal. Tim Gleason is the only one without a goal but has been as advertised, doing exactly what Team USA called on him to do. He’s been physical, solid and consistent, but rarely flashy. Ruutu seems to have fully recovered from his injury and, I would argue from a totally biased perspective, has been one of Finland’s best players on the ice so far. And yeah, he’s good, but who would have thought Eric Staal would be on Canada’s top line? Staal got his foot into the revolving door of Sidney Crosby’s linemates and might stick there. He has a goal and five assists, tallying one most recently tonight in a 7-3 rout of AO and the Russians. As everyone undoubtedly saw (hurrah for ratings!) Staal had the first goal in one of the most widely-watched and anticipated hockey games of the decade: USA vs. Canada in the prelims. He then lost his cool, decided to get scrappy and earned an almost devastating penalty toward the end of the second period after attempting a flying bear hug. But Canada survived. Staal went crashing into the boards awkwardly tonight and Raleigh held its breath, but he looked to be fine.

Even though it’s several days too late, can we talk about “that” game? Staal’s Canada and Gleason’s USA have surprised for several reasons. Canada was a dream squad, a team only 14-year-olds with a game console and no salary cap could dream up. America, while stacked, seemed more like a list of players who just happened to be American. A lot of the guys on that roster aren’t household names. And yet somehow, the scrappy underdogs beat the high-scoring juggernauts at home and looked good doing it (was that not the most beautiful empty-netter you’ve ever seen?) Could they do it again? I’m not sure. But that game was definitely one to remember.

And then…of course…Pitkanen. Joni Pitkanen isn’t exactly known to be disciplined – he takes needless penalties quite a lot, but Carolina doesn’t seem to hold it against him. But the other night, Pitkanen got mad! He elbowed Sweden’s Patric Hornqvist in the head and incurred an automatic one-game suspension, which is already taken care of. His team did fine without him in dispensing the Czech Republic tonight.

The only thing that’s gone truly wrong with these games so far from a local perspective? Finland hasn’t yet been forced to realize how much better it would be with a certain clutch-scoring, Brodeur-angering shootout specialist on its roster. There’s still time.

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