The stage is set for USA-Canada matchup Friday

The stage is set for USA-Canada matchup Friday
February 19, 2014, 3:45 pm
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It’s a beautiful day, folks, and I’m not talking about that strange yellow ball in the sky making the rare appearance in Chicago.

No, this beautiful day is brought to you from events half a world away, from an oversized sheet of ice and the results on which that are bringing us a dream matchup once again.

When Team USA and Team Canada meet on Friday, it won’t be in the gold-medal game as it was in 2010 in Vancouver. That, however, doesn’t diminish the intensity, the drama and the watching parties that this matchup demands. Don’t act like you’re not already plotting to get out of work, or at least take a long lunch, on Friday. We know you’ll be watching. You know you’ll be watching.

Still, wasn’t there a part of you that was pulling for Latvia? Didn’t you at least want to give goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis a well-deserved standing ovation for his performance against Team Canada? The netminder stopped 55-of-57 shots; and if there’s any justice in this world, Gudlevskis will have his face on some piece of Latvian currency (better known as the Latvia Lat) by the end of the day.

[MORE: Men's hockey Olympic bracket, TV schedule]

But ultimately, those of us on this side of the pond are getting the semifinal we hoped we’d get. It’s Patrick Kane looking to get to the final and a chance at his first gold medal. It’s Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith looking to advance for a chance to in their second gold, and Sharp aiming for his first gold. It’s the (North American) dream matchup.

Of the two, Team Canada hasn’t taken the easy road in these Olympic Games. While Team USA trounced a smart and pesky Czech Republic squad 5-2, the Canadians eked out another one. Outside of their lopsided 6-0 victory over Austria, Canada’s been feeling the heat. They took a 2-1 victory over Finland, who eliminated Russia on Wednesday morning. Then there was today’s pressure cooker of a game vs. Latvia. Again, much of the credit goes to Gudlevskis. The Chicago Blackhawks players must have felt like it was a regular-season game when they’re getting tons of shots yet still squeezing out 2-1 or 3-2 victories.

Team USA, meanwhile, has generated offense seemingly at will. Other than that much-ballyhooed shootout victory over Russia, the U.S. team scored five goals or more in its other three games. Not bad. It’s come from everywhere, with defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Phil Kessel among those putting up tremendous performances.

So make those long-lunch reservations now or think up that paltry excuse to keep you out of the office on Friday. This US-Canada matchup isn’t going to be for all the marbles; it’s for earing the opportunity to play for all the marbles. It doesn’t matter. It’s Team USA, it’s Team Canada, it’s what everyone over here, including the players, hoped it would be.

[RELATED: On to the next one: Team USA rolls en route to semis]

We haven't forgotten...

Hey, it may be the early game and it may not involve North American countries, but we’re still plenty interested in the Finland-Sweden semifinal on Friday morning. If you’re a Blackhawks fan, you’ll watch to see if Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger earn a chance to play for gold. If you’re not, perhaps you’re intrigued by Teemu Selanne’s last Olympic hurrah. Maybe you’re zeroed in on Henrik Lundqvist’s goaltending, which included Wednesday’s 5-0 victory over Slovenia, his second shutout of the tournament.

Or maybe you’ll just root for Finland because they beat the host Russia. Hey, whatever floats your boat. It’s going to be an entertaining game nonetheless – perhaps even more so than the Team USA-Team Canada contest. That’s just our hunch.

Have fun watching, folks.