Predicting the Olympic medal winners

Nicklas Backstrom and Team Sweden are looking to bring home another gold medal. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Best Olympic forward groups | Defensemen | Goalies

The way Peter Budaj put it, the Sochi Olympics men's hockey tournament is wide open. Yes, he and everybody else will concede that the Canadians, Russians and Swedes come with a little extra firepower, but there will be a point where one game could change everything for the favorites.

“The philosophy is different than playing an 82-game season,” said Budaj, one of two NHL goalies on Team Slovakia’s roster. “You play a few games in a group stage and then it’s do or die. Game 7s all the way to the finals."

And if you think about it, who better to have on your side in a Game 7 than Zdeno Chara? Or Marian Hossa? Or even Jaroslav Halak, whose January save percentage was a tidy .939? Nobody is talking about Budaj’s Slovakia team, and yet it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to envision that group pulling off an upset or two.

Budaj thinks it goes even deeper than that.

“There are no outsiders anymore,” Budaj said when we chatted recently. “Slovenia . . . five or 10 years ago, you might be, 'Eh, Slovenia. Group C. Nothing.' They’re an Olympic team that has [Anze] Kopitar, a couple guys playing in the American Hockey League . . . a couple guys playing in the KHL."

His conclusion? “You cannot put on to paper who is going to win it,” he said.