Monday's Olympic Digest: U.S. Women's Hockey Team Earns Finals Spot; Men Must Win or Go Home

The U.S. women's hockey team is on to the gold medal game, but the men's team finds itself in a do-or-die situation on Monday night.
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The rematch is set. Thanks to a 5–0 thrashing of Finland on Monday, the U.S. women's hockey team is back in the Olympic championship game for a third straight Games—and, for a third straight time, it will be Canada standing in the way of Team USA's first gold medal since 1998. Thanks to a goal in the first two minutes from Gigi Marvin and three scores on the power play, the U.S. made easy work of the Finns and their star goalie Noora Raty—the Americans scored five on 38 shots, while Finland could manage only 14 shots. Aside from Marvin, the U.S. got its goals from Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson (who has scored three goals this tournament), Hilary Knight (her first of the Games) and Dana Cameranesi (who lit the lamp twice) to advance to the finals for the fifth time in six trips to the Olympics.

The task ahead is daunting. Not only has Canada won every gold medal in women's hockey aside from the inaugural tournament in 1998, but the Canadians have also dispatched the Americans in the last two gold medal games and beat them earlier in PyeongChang in the group stage, 2–1. Canada, too, had no trouble in its semifinal, crushing the Olympic Athletes from Russia, 5–0, thanks to two goals from Jessica Wakefield and a three-goal outburst in the third period to put the game away.

The U.S. and Canada won't meet until Thursday afternoon in Korea (otherwise known as Wednesday night in the United States), so there's plenty of time to get excited for that one. But let's quickly check out the rest of the top stories from the last 24 hours of Olympic action.

• Staying on the ice, the first half of the ice dance program is complete, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, it's the Canadian pair of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in front. The duo, who already own a gold medal from this year's figure skating team event and last won Olympic gold in this event in 2010, set a new world record for points in the short dance, cruising into first place with a score of 83.67. That was enough to hold off the French pair of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron; the former was hampered throughout her skate by a wardrobe malfunction, and the two were forced to settle for second with 81.93 points. Behind those two couples come a trio of Americans: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (third), Alex and Maia Shibutani (fourth), and Madison Chock and Evan Bates (seventh). Hubbell and Donohue, the reigning national champions, edged out the Shib sibs by a mere .03 points in the standings going into the free dance portion of the event, which should make for an exciting battle for bronze during the free dance program on Monday night. 

• Norway continued to rack up medals, adding two more to its overall count with golds in the men's team ski jump and the men's 500 meter speedskate, as winner Havard Lorentzen set a new Olympic record in the latter. Norway was shut out of the day's only other medal event, though: the two-man bobsled, in which Canada and Germany tied for gold while Latvia finished third for the bronze (though if you ask me, if you finish third behind two competitors who tied for first, they should give you the silver).

• On the slopes, the debut of the snowboard big air competition—learn more about it here—went off without a hitch on the women's side, with 12 athletes moving on to the final. That includes two-time slopestyle champion Jamie Anderson, who finished sixth, and her fellow Americans Julia Marino (ninth) and Jessika Jenson (12th). Team USA teenager Hailey Langland, though, just missed the cut at 14th; her score of 73.00 was just 3.25 behind Jenson for the final qualifying spot, as she nailed her first jump but was unable to land her second. Also moving on to the finals, which will take place on Feb. 23: Austria's Anna Gasser, who took first; 16-year-old Japanese sensation Reira Iwabuchi; and Norwegian superstar Silje Norendal.

Must-watch Events

Men's ice hockey playoff qualification: United States vs. Slovakia (Airs live at 10:10 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

After going 1–2 in group stage play, the U.S. men's team is in a do-or-die spot if it wants to continue its medal quest. After failing to secure an automatic bid to the playoffs after opening the tournament with a loss to Slovenia and also getting crushed by the Russians, Team USA must now win to advance to the quarterfinals. Luckily for the U.S., the opponent is Slovakia, who fell to Team USA, 2–1, in Group B play. Should the Americans survive and advance, a matchup with the Czech Republic, which won Group A, awaits.

Figure skating: Ice dance free dance (Coverage begins live at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC and NBCSN)

The top two spots in this event are likely already set, with Canada's Virtue and Moir the favorites for gold and France's Papadakis and Cizeron the bet to take home silver (barring a disastrous night for the Canadians or a miraculous skate for the French). The real battle here should be for bronze between the American pairs of Hubbell and Donohue and the Shibutanis (who helped the U.S. win the bronze in the team event), who are separated by the slimmest of margins for third place. The edge may be to the former: Hubbell and Donohue won the national championship back in January on the strength of their free dance, erasing a narrow Shibutani lead to capture the title. Keep an eye out, though, for the third American duo in the event, Chock and Bates, who posted the highest free dance score at nationals and are currently in seventh but sit only two points out of third.

Women's freestyle skiing halfpipe (Airs live at 9:28 p.m. ET; coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. on NBC)

Three Americans in this event qualified for the final, including defending gold medalist Maddie Bowman; she'll be joined by countrywomen Brita Sigourney and Annalisa Drew. Also joining the party are the silver and bronze medalists from 2014: France's Marie Martinod and Japan's Ayana Onozuka. Martinod lost the gold to Bowman by just 3.60 points in Sochi and finished second in qualifying, just behind Canada's Cassie Sharpe, while Bowman was sixth.

Tweet of the Day

I know Adam Rippon's Olympics are over (as is his extremely brief stint as an NBC correspondent), but I'm not ready for him to leave. More Rippon, dammit.

Daily Reading and Videos

• In the gold medal game once again, the U.S. women's hockey team is now the great American hope at these Olympics, writes TIME's Sean Gregory.

• But overall, PyeongChang has been a real disappointment in the medal count for Team USA, writes Michael Rosenberg.

• Here's Tim Layden on why Lindsey Vonn is laughing in the face of her internet trolls.

• Want to know how to watch ice dance? Let 2014 gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White be your guides.

• The norovirus going around PyeongChang has hit the U.S. men's hockey team—well, close to it, anyway.

• The 2022 Games in Beijing will see two more women's hockey teams take the ice as the IOC expands the event from eight to 10.

Athletes to Root For

The U.S. men's hockey team came into PyeongChang at a distinct disadvantage thanks to the NHL's refusal to allow its players to participate. As such, Team USA is a hodgepodge of collegiate athletes, guys currently toiling in foreign leagues, and ex-NHLers who've laced up the skates one more time. To be fair, the NHL's decision has affected every team competing, but perhaps none have been hit as hard as the Americans. No one will shed a tear for the U.S. being knocked down a peg, but that does make them easy underdogs to root for as they try to make a miracle run at a medal, starting with tonight's game against Slovakia.