Finns, Swedes don't like each other

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The Olympic hockey tournament has reached the semifinals and there are plenty of storylines to explore in each game.

What should fans look for when two bitter rivals from Scandinavia take the ice Friday morning? 

We're glad you asked, because Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun have answers. 

BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, with all the attention back home focused on the U.S. attempting to avenge its loss to Canada in the 2010 gold-medal game, there's another fascinating semifinal to consider here in Sochi. That would be a rematch of the 2006 gold-medal game, won by Sweden over Finland.

The two nations have a long history with each other. As Swedish defenseman Niklas Kronwall put it: "It goes way back, obviously. The two countries have always competed in everything; in sports in particular. I think it's hard for people outside to really understand what the rivalry is all about." And while the Swedes boast greater talent with stars Nicklas Backstrom, Henrik LundqvistErik Karlsson and Daniel Sedin, the Finns are not to be trifled with. Just ask Russia.

Adding a little spice to an already piquant Olympic stew, Swedish head coach Par Marts predicted Wednesday that the Russians would beat Finland. Oops.

"After the game, he knew who won the game," Finland head coach Erkka Westerlund said after the Finns practiced Thursday.

Both teams have reached the semifinals despite injuries to top players and will try to impose drastically different styles on each other. The Finns, of course, play a more conservative, close-checking style, while the Swedes will be looking to create more offensively.

"Team Sweden, looking at them I don't think they've played their best hockey yet," longtime NHL defenseman Mattias Norstrom told ESPN.com Thursday. "They took a step in the right direction in the quarterfinals, especially getting some goals from some key players."

LEBRUN: Having covered several games between Sweden and Finland over the years, at the Olympics and the IIHF world championship, I'm not sure I can put into words what it means to these countries to beat each other. I'll never forget being at the worlds in Helsinki in 2003, when Finland coughed up a 5-1 lead in the semifinals and suffered a 6-5 loss to the hated Swedes.

I cannot tell you how many depressed faces I saw while walking around town that night. Finland took that loss as a national embarrassment, a kick to the shins by big brother Sweden. And three years later, the Finns lost to Sweden in the gold-medal game. You want to talk rivalry? Sheesh.

"It goes back years," said Sweden's  Alex Steen. "It's not just hockey, but all different kinds of sporting events. As soon as the Swedes go against the Finns, everyone in both countries will be watching."

To Norstrom's point though, Scotty, I agree that we've yet to see Sweden's A-game, whereas Finland stepped up big time to knock off Russia. In the lead-up to that 2006 gold-medal game, there was similar talk about the Swedes, who had struggled in the preliminary round but saved their best for last. I suspect we'll see Sweden's best game tomorrow.

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