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Olympic playoff preview: Austria, Slovenia battle for top-eight finish

Feb 17, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

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MichaelGrabner AP

The Game: No. 8 Slovenia versus No. 9 Austria. Tuesday, 3 a.m. ET at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

How they got here: By recording historic wins in the group stage. Slovenia scored a stunning upset of Slovakia on Saturday, earning its first-ever win at the Olympics. Austria got its first Winter Games victory in 12 years with a 3-1 win over Norway on Sunday. Those were enough to propel Slovenia and Austria into the eighth and ninth seeds, respectively, which is a big deal — the winner is now guaranteed a quarterfinal berth and top-eight Olympic finish in the process. That’s pretty good, considering Slovenia’s never placed; eighth would be Austria’s highest finish at the Olympics since 1976.

Who’s hot: For Austria, Michael Grabner. The Islanders forward leads the tournament with five goals and has either scored or assisted on all but one of Austria’s seven goals this tournament.

For Slovenia, it’s Ziga Jeglic, who leads the team with three points. After scoring twice in the tournament-opening loss to Russia, Jeglic assisted on Slovenia’s first goal in the aforementioned upset over Slovakia.

Who’s not: Slovenia’s best player and lone NHLer, Anze Kopitar, left Sunday’s loss to the U.S. in the second period and didn’t return, finishing with just 11:31 TOI. After the game, head coach Matjaz Kopitar — Anze’s dad —  said his son was suffering from a stomach illness and “had no power.” The elder Kopitar said Anze was held out for precautionary reasons and would be good to play against Austria, but given how significantly illnesses have hit teams this tournament (the Czechs lost Radko Gudas and Patrik Elias to one), it could be an issue.

Austrian captain Thomas Vanek‘s had a tournament to forget. He has no goals and just one point through three games, and made headlines by openly criticizing goalie Bernhard Starkbaum following an 8-4 loss to Finland.

X-Factor: Since we just mentioned it, goaltending. Austria made the change from Starkbaum to Mathias Lange during a 6-0 loss to Canada and Lange’s been very good in relief, allowing just one goal on 50 combined shots from the Canadians and Norwegians. Have to think Lange gets the call on Tuesday.

Slovenia’s Robert Kristian was solid in the first two games — stopping 57 of 63 shots against Russia and Slovakia — and should return to the net after getting a break against the U.S. (backup Luka Gracnar played, and allowed five goals on 28 shots).

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