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Daily Briefing, Feb. 24

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Armageddon comes early to the two biggest and two best hockey nations in the planet. So proclaims SI's Michael Farber about today's leave-town quarterfinal between Russia and Canada. "At 4:45 p.m. Vancouver time Wednesday -- that's 3:45 a.m. Thursday in Moscow, so set those alarms in your dacha -- the most compelling game of the tournament (with apologies to Team USA) will commence," says Farber. "This is Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby. This is Hockey Night in Canada vs. Hockey Morning on the Volga. This is Mike Babcock vs. Slava Bykov, two of the best bench coaches in the world. This is 38 years of vibrant history, oozing respect and antipathy."

This is the singular marquee event on a terrific day at the Olympics, which includes appearances by Apolo Ohno, alpine skiers Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Vonn and the U.S. men's hockey team, which will play Switzerland in its own huge quarterfinal game.

(All times Eastern)

• SI cover girls and double Olympic medalists Julia Mancuso and Lindsey Vonn return to the Whistler Creekside for today's women's Giant Slalom (The first run is set for 1:00 p.m.; the second run to follow at 4:15 p.m.). Mancuso is the defending Olympic champion in giant slalom and U.S. Skiing says she will be wearing a specially made speed suit to honor her 2006 gold. She has won silver medals in the downhill and Super Combined. Vonn is a longshot in the race: She has never finished in the top three of a Giant Slalom. The serious contenders include Kathrin Holzl of Germany, who is ranked first in the World Cup GS, Finland's Tanja Poutiainen, the defending world cup champion, Austria's Kathrin Zettel and Slovenia's Tina Maze. Sarah Schleper and Megan McJames will also compete for the U.S. "Based solely on this season's World Cup results, alpine handicappers would have dismissed her chances, but in these Games she has already won two silver medals, way against form," says SI's Tim Layden of Mancuso.

• Norway, Russia, Germany, and Finland, are the favorites for the Men's 40-kilometer cross country relay (2:15 p.m.) The Italians, who have dominated this event for years, are not considered a strong team this year. The Norwegians are led by star Petter Northug and SI's pick to win here. Keep in mind Norway, Germany and Russia went 1-2-3 in the team free sprint on Feb. 22.

It's Hockey Day in Canada. The quarterfinals:

• The United States plays Switzerland (3 p.m.) in opening quarterfinal at Canada Hockey Place. Even though the U.S. defeated them (3-1) earlier in the tournament, Switzerland should not be treated lightly, especially with standout goalie Jonas Hiller, who singlehandedly forced Canada to a shootout in the team's second game. He made 45 saves against the Canadians. After the rousing win over Canada on Tuesday, Team USA coach Ron Wilson and his players must guard against a letdown. "The best two teams in this tournament are still [Russia and Canada]," said Team USA GM Brian Burke. "You guys were there. We got out-chanced 2-to-1 [against Canada]." And the team's goal is gold and nothing else. "We didn't come here to get a participation medal." The winner-gets the winner of the Czech Republic-Finland game.

• Russia vs. Canada (7:30 p.m.). Mike Farber previews Armageddon on the ice here.

• Czech Republic vs. Finland (10:00 p.m.) The Czechs got a big scare from Latvia Tuesday before finally finishing them off 3-2 in overtime. But the news is not good: Czech forward Jaromir Jagr left the game with an upper body injury, and its hard to believe they can beat the Finns without him, even if Tomas Vokoun plays out of his mind. Finland took silver in Turin and rolled over Germany and Belarus before they were dominated by Sweden. They have a terrific goalie in Miikka Kiprusoff and are strong on the power play with Saku Koivi, Tuomo Ruutu and Kimmo Timonen. The game will be played at the UBC Thunderbird Arena.

• Sweden vs. Slovakia (midnight) The Swedes look like a million Kronors, winning all three games including a 3-0 win over Finland. The talent is endless here including Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has not allowed a goal in the two games he played. Slovakia eked by Norway and is led by Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa and Miroslav Satan. The winner advances against the survivor of Russia-Canada.

• Czech Republic star Martina Sablikova is SI's pick in the women's 5,000 longtrack speedskating event (4:00 p.m.) Here's why: She won gold in the 3000 and bronze in the 1500 and has won the world title in this event for three straight years. Canada's Kristina Groves is the home country's best bet. She got silver in the 1,500 and bronze in the 3,000. Other medal contenders include Germans Stephanie Beckert and Daniela Anschütz-Thoms. Maria Lamb and Jilleanne Rookard will skate for the U.S.

• Three American sleds are in the top six as the conclusion of women's bobsled comes today (Heat 3 begins at 8:00 p.m., followed by the final run) at The Whistler Sliding Center. The sled of USA 2 with Erin Pac and Elana Meyers is in second place with total time of 1:46.33, only 0.13 behind the Canada-1 team of Kallie Humphries and Heather Moyse (1:46.20). Pac and Meyers set a track record of 53.05 on its second run, only to have Canada 1 lower the mark to 53.01. USA 3, with Bree Schaaf and Emily Azevedo, and USA 1 (Shauna Rohbock and Michelle Rzepka) both have a total time of 1:47.09, which is 0.49 behind the third-place sled (Germany 2's Cathleen Martini and Romy Logsch).

• The great Wang Meng is back on the track in the 1000 short track event (opening heats start at 8:00 p.m.) after winning the 500 and getting disqualified in the semis of the 1500 for impeding American Katherine Reutter on the next-to-last lap. The Chinese skater is the world champion in the 1000, won silver in the event in Turn, and is SI's pick for gold. Zhou Yang of China and South Korea's Lee Eun-byul are also medal contenders. Reutter is the big American hope. She is ranked No. 2 in the world for the 1000 and was fifth in the world championships. Allison Baver, Kimberly Derrick, Alyson Dudek and Lana Gehring will also skate for the U.S.

• The men's 500 short track (opening heats start at 8:47 p.m.) could be Ohno's last shot at a medal as the U.S. will be a longshot in the men's 5,000 team relay. He won the 500 in Turin and has a terrific chance for medal No. 8 here, adding to his tally as the most gilded U.S. Winter Olympian. The competition includes a slew of Canadians: Charles Hamelin has won two of the last three world championships (2007 and 2009) and finished second in 2008. Francois-Louis Tremblay took silver in Turin and Oliver Jean finished third at the 2009 World Championships. Simon Cho and Jordan Malone will also compete for the U.S. The quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will take place Friday.

• South Korea, China, and the United States are the favorites for gold in the women's 3000 relay (final starts at 9:26 p.m.). The four relay skaters must complete 27 laps for 3,000 meters; each one has to skate at least one and a half laps at a time.

• It's Australia versus China in the conclusion (10:30 p.m.) of the Ladies' aerials at Cypress Mountain. In the final group of 12, Australia has Jacqui Cooper and Lydia Lassila while China is loaded with a quartet of stars (Li Nina, Shuang Cheng, Xinin Guo, and Mengtao Xu). SI picks Lassila for gold followed by Li and Shuang. Li took silver at Turin and is currently ranked No. 1 in the world. Lassila owns the world record two-jump score of 220.91. Alla Tsuper of Belarus is also one to watch. Ashley Caldwell, Emily Cook and Lacy Schnoor will also compete for the U.S.

• Sweden (4-5) and Great Britain (4-5) play a men's tiebreaker match in men's curing (5:00 p.m.) at the Vancouver Olympic Centre. The winner advances to the playoff round.

34 -- Medals won by the U.S. at the Salt Lake City Games, the most by an American team at an Olympic Games This current U.S. team sits at 26.

22 -- Winter Olympic medals for alums of Dartmouth College after Andrew Weibrecht's bronze in the Super G. Harvard leads the Ivies with 33 Winter Olympic medals.

10.6 -- Canadian viewers, in millions, that watched the U.S.-Canada game Sunday on CTV, the most-watched sports program in Canadian history, according to CTV. The previous record of 10.3 million viewers watched Canada beat the U.S. in the gold medal game at Salt Lake.

"The utter incapacity of this country to host a major international event, due to its inferiority complex, [is] born of a trauma being the skinny and weakling bro to a beefy United States and a colonial outpost to the United Kingdom." -- Russian newspaper Pravda, offering its take on the Vancouver Games.

"I think children are the main thing women are designed to do, so the answer is yes, it helped." -- Russian biathlete Olga Medvedtseva, part of the gold-medal winning women's 4x6 relay team, on whether having a child contributed to her success.

1.Why you don't see Wayne Gretzky smiling (by Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun) Wayne's World isn't always fun.

2.It Was A Swing And A Miss For Brodeur -- Now It's Luongo's Show (by Eric Duhatschek, The Globe and Mail) Can goaltender Roberto Luongo save Canada?

3. Canadian life expectancy hits 80.7 years (by Shannon Proudfoot, Canwest News Service) The Canadians are kicking butt ... at aging.

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