Many subplots for Canada-USA

Sidney Crosby

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

What should fans look for when North American rivals take the ice on Friday?

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

1. Pressure on Canada: Four years after an epic gold-medal game in Vancouver and thousands of miles from home, Team Canada is still under more pressure than the United States heading into their semifinal matchup in Sochi. Different dynamics, obviously, but it's interesting that all of the focus is once again on Canada. In Vancouver, it was about winning it all in front of a rabid home audience. Here, it is about trying to prove that there is nothing wrong with a lineup that is as talented on paper as any Canada has had since the 1987 Canada Cup, but still can't find the back of the net.

The Americans, meanwhile, are the favorites in the sense that they are playing the best hockey of any of the four remaining teams, and have done so against the best competition. They once again will enjoy the position of being the foils to the drama that seemingly always envelops Canada at best-on-best tournaments. Does it mean anything? Likely not, but it's fun to talk about.

"At this point, whether we beat three favorites or zero, nobody's going to really think about that or talk about that if we get the result we want [Friday] and win the game," Canadian captain Sidney Crosby said Thursday.

2. Meaning for the U.S.: Both semifinals have that big brother/little brother feeling. Sweden has always peered down on Finland, and the United States has always chased the standard set by Canada in hockey.

The win in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, finally beating Canada in a best-on-best championship, meant so much to the United States from that perspective. Still, a win like that hasn't happened since, with the U.S. losing to Canada in both the 2002 and 2010 Olympic gold-medal games. So, yes, it feels like the Americans are still looking up at Canada.

"They're the neighbors, they're the ones who produce the most players, some of the high-end players out there," Team USA forward Joe Pavelski said. "You're always trying to match up against them. They've proven themselves over and over again. When you get a chance to play against them, they're the best, so you want to be there."

It doesn't matter how many times the U.S. beats Canada in the world junior championships. That's not the best against the best. An Olympic semifinal win Friday night would mean so much to USA Hockey and a generation of kids in America.

"It's the biggest [rivalry] in hockey. For a long time, the Canadians have been expected to win tournaments. I think the Americans have challenged that in recent years. You can go back to 2002 or 2010 or world junior tournaments. This will be the next version," U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said.

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