- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Sweden and Russia are trying to be the best of the rest.

The two unbeaten women’s hockey teams will play their Olympic round-robin finale on Thursday, with the winner claiming the top seed in the bottom-tier Group B. Both countries have already clinched a spot in the quarterfinals, but a victory in their head-to-head matchup will determine which plays bronze medal favorite Finland and which plays the more vulnerable Swiss team.

“Anybody in the other group is obviously a very strong opponent,” Russian forward Yekaterina Pashkevich said. “That’s the reason they’re in that group.”

In order to keep the opening round more competitive and avoid the blowouts that characterized previous Winter Games, the international governing body has placed the eight competing nations in two weighted groups. The top four countries in the world rankings - the U.S., Canada, Finland and Switzerland - are in Group A; Russia and Sweden are in the lower tier with Japan and Germany.

Japan and Germany are winless heading into their finale on Thursday and have been eliminated from medal contention. They each lost to Russia and Sweden in the round-robin.

“The reality is that those two teams are better than us,” German forward Sara Seiler said. “Our goal is to finish fifth, so we can regroup as that goal is still possible.”

The winner of the game between Russia and Sweden will play in the quarterfinals against Switzerland, which was winless in the round robin after an overtime loss to Finland on Wednesday; the loser of the Russia-Sweden match will face Finland, the defending Olympic bronze medalist, and its two-time NCAA champion goalie Noora Raty.

“This is the goal for us: to stay in first place in our group,” Russian forward Alexandra Vafina said after scoring a late game-winner against Japan. “For right now, we have to do this.”

The quarterfinal winners then advance to play the United States and Canada, which had clinched byes into the semifinals even before Canada beat the Americans on Wednesday in the much-anticipated matchup between the women’s hockey’s only two powers.

Canada finished group play 3-0, while the United States fell to 2-1.



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