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Daily Briefing, Feb. 28

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- All of Canada is holding its breath for the result of today's men's cross-country 50km mass start.

Sure they are.

The only event that matters today -- and some Canadians would argue the only event that matters in Vancouver -- is the men's hockey gold-medal game. Canada was expected to be here. The Americans are the surprise. The game is a rematch of the 2002 gold medal match in Salt Lake City, which was won by Canada. I asked three of our hockey-drunk writers in Vancouver to weigh in with predictions:

Michael Farber: "Before the Olympics began, I picked Team Canada to win the tournament. So with the Canadians in the gold-medal game, should I turtle now? (I had Team USA for a bronze.) The Americans should be favored, based on their stellar win over Finland, whippet-like speed, an admirable cohesion and the superior play of goalie Ryan Miller. If Team USA can withstand the anticipated Canadian onslaught as it did in the 5-3 round-robin win against the host nation -- double the numbers of shots and scoring chances -- it should prevail. But in Canada's game, this is Canada's time. Say, 4-3.

Sarah Kwak: I won't go as far as Fake Ryan Miller, who cited Team USA's international experience as an advantage over Canada, but I am picking Team USA , thanks to the real Ryan Miller, who has been the best goalie in the tournament. With the dominating 6-1 win over Finland -- albeit, Canada is far bigger, tougher and smarter defensively than the Finns -- the U.S. offense proves it has business sharing the ice with the home team. Now, they'll have to lean on Miller, but hey, he's gotten them this far, and Team Canada goaltender Roberto Luongo hasn't exactly instilled all confidence in the nation, letting the Slovakian team back into the game with a couple of late ones on Friday. Canada is strong, but they're not invincible. Final score: 4-2, USA.

S.L. Price: 2-0 USA. Ryan Miller.

For what it's worth, and it's not worth much, I like Canada, 4-2.

(All times Eastern)

• Norway's Petter Northug, one of cross-country skiing's biggest stars, gets one last chance to win an individual gold medal in the men's 50-kilometer cross-country mass start classic (12:30 p.m.). Northug is the reigning world champion at 50K and leads the World Cup standings. Czech skier Lukas Bauer, Estonia's Andrus Veerpaul, Sweden's Marcus Hellner and Russians Maxim Vylegzhanin and Alexander Legkov are all medal contenders. One of the headlines of the race was the decision by Team Canada coach Inge Braten not to select Brian McKeever as one of his skiers. McKeever was aiming to become the first Winter Games athlete to compete in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games -- he is one of the most decorated Paralympians in the world. "I have to be professional," Braten told reporters. "I have to choose the guys who are best for the 50K. Normally, sorry to say, all four are faster than Brian. And I think they can fight for a medal -- all four of them. And I then have to pick out one who has a medal chance and put in Brian?"

• The gold medal game begins at 3:15 pm and will be broadcast live in all time zones on NBC. Canada leads the series all-time (10-3-3), though they lost to the U.S earlier in the tournament. U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller heads into the game with a 1.04 goals-against average, tops in the tournament. If the U.S. wins the gold it will be the first team to win every game in the men's hockey tournament since the Soviet Union in 1988. And keep this in mind: The last time a host team won Olympic gold in men's hockey? The United States in 1980.

• The Closing Ceremony will be held at BC Place at 8:30 p.m. The Vancouver Sun reports the Canadians will poke fun at themselves during the ceremony. There will also be the handoff to Russia, which will host the 2014 Winter Games in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

"Of course we expected more from our team, but that's not cause to throw up our hands, wear a sackcloth and ashes or beat ourselves with chains. It's cause for serious analysis and conclusions, including maybe some organizational conclusions." -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on Russia's Olympic performance.

"It's a kick in the nuts to leave here without a medal." -- American skier Ted Ligety, who missed a gate early in the first run of men's slalom Saturday at Whistler Creekside.

102 -- Bib number for Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, aka The Snow Leopard, the first ever Winter Olympian from the African nation of Ghana. He finished 47th in the slalom, 43.28 seconds behind winner Italian Giuliano Razzoli.

37 -- Medals won by the United States at the Vancouver Games, a record for a single country at a Winter Olympics. The previous record of 36 was set by Germany in 2002.

0 -- Days left in the Olympic Games

1.Russians Distraught About Poor Olympic Showing. (by Megan K. Stack, San Francisco Chronicle) Sochi can't come soon enough.

2.An Olympic Games As White As Snow (by Peter McMartin, Vancouver Sun) Diversity is missing from Team Canada.

3.I Am Not Speed Skating Star Shani Davis (by Jerome Solomon) For the last time, no, Houston Chronicle writer Jerome Solomon is not Shani Davis.

4.A Gold Medal For Vancouver Games (by Editorial Page staff of The Globe and Mail) Expect the Canadian press to torch the London Games from now until 2012.

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