Captain Cloquet Minnesota, Jamie Langenbrunner, became a national hero last night. Everyone is giving Rafalski and Miller all the credit (and deservedly so, but i'm going to point out what Jamie did too). On the first shift of the game, Jamie wins a battle on the boards, feeds his point and hustles across the ice to create traffic. Sidney Crosby picks him up and ends up deflecting Brian Rafalski's shot in for the 1-0 lead. Later on in the first, Marty Brodeur makes a bad decision and bats the puck to a hard-charging Rafalski at the blueline. Jamie goes straight to the net, provides the screen, Rafalski fans on the shot, but Brodeur doesn't see it because of Jamie providing traffic and Brodeur ends up deflecting it into the net off of his left toe. If you look back at the replay, you'll see Rafalski was aiming high glove, but took a stick to the hands just before release that caused him to partially fan and send it along the ice. This is also why Brodeur looked bad on the play - he was positioning himself for a shot to the top corner. Finally, Jamie was once again providing traffic in front of the net on the game-winning goal and it hit his skate and deflected into the net. I can't put it into words how proud I am that he is from my hometown. What a great win for USA hockey. However, they haven't won anything yet...they need to use this momentum and find a way to win when it counts in the medal round.
Because the Swedes defeated the Finns last night, the USA gets the #1 seed for the medal round. This is the best possible place to be because of how everything else fell. On Wednesday, the USA will play the winner of the Belarus/Switzerland in the quarterfinals. Both teams are capable of beating the USA, but this certainly is an easier opponent compared to what the rest of field faces in the quarterfinals. The other three quarters will be SWE/SLO, RUS/CAN, and FIN/CZE assuming the Czechs, Canadians, and Slovakians take care of business on Tuesday against weaker opponents. So, let's say the USA gets the job done in the quarters. They will play the winner of the FIN/CZE quarterfinal on Friday. This will be an extremely tough game no matter who it is, but I would rather face one of these two teams than Russia or Canada or even Sweden for that matter.
If they can pull that off, they're in the gold medal game against whoever advances out of this "group of death" on the other side of the bracket: Canada, Russia, Sweden, and Slovakia.
Buckle up and enjoy the ride. USA hockey has already given us something we will never forget, but it COULD get even better.
PS - I was wrong about Chris Drury. He is playing the consummate team game and doing whatever it takes out there and he got rewarded with a huge goal last night. Congratulations to him.
PSS - On a Bruins note, Phil Kessel proved to me last night that the Bruins made the right decision in letting him go. He is not a big game player because he cannot handle physicality. He was a liability in the defensive zone last night. It led to one of Canada's goals and could have led to another if not for Ryan Miller. Ron Wilson took him off the Pavelski/Malone line after Canada scored the 2nd goal with that line on the ice as well he should have. Congratulations Peter Chiarelli on officially coming out WAY AHEAD in that deal with Toronto.