With another commanding victory in the Olympic hockey tournament on Sunday, the United States men won their division and earned a bye and an automatic berth into the quarterfinals.
In other words, the Americans get to skip a step in their run for gold.
After finishing second among the tournament’s top four teams, the 3-0 Americans will face either the Czech Republic or Slovakia in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. A win in the quarters, and the U.S. could face Canada in the semi-finals.
Sweden, the top-ranked team, Canada, in third, and Finland, fourth, also earned byes into the quarterfinals.
The break offers the Americans a much-needed breather after a grueling week in which they played three games in four days.
They blew out Slovakia on Thursday, edged Russia in a thrilling shootout on Saturday and dominated Slovenia on Sunday. They’ve scored a total of 15 goals and given up four, a scoring differential that is tops so far in the Olympics and could give them an advantage in any tie-breaking scenario.
Whoever they play on Wednesday, the Americans will be better rested, and that could give them an advantage.
If they win the quarterfinal game, then they’ll head into the semifinals, which will determine who advances to the gold medal game.
Their semi-final opponent could be Canada, which will play the winner of Switzerland v. Latvia on Wednesday.
And what about a rematch with the Russians? It remains a possibility that the U.S. will meet its rival again, and if it does, it could happen in the gold-medal final.