04/28/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

USA Hockey Goes for the Gold

Early in NBC's telecast of the Olympic semi-final hockey game Friday afternoon, the camera caught one of those meta-scenes showing Finland's goalie, Mikka Kiprusoff, looking up and watching a video replay on the scoreboard of the first goal against him by the United States.

It turned out to be an easy 6-1 victory for the Americans, but it was only 1-0 at the time and that was mostly because Kiprusoff had mis-played the puck. He would give up three more before being replaced in the first period.

Those seeking omens for his misfortune might have noticed the image on the bottom of the goalie's otherwise colorful mask. The part that guarded his mouth and chin was decorated with the image of a human skull, like a death's head flag from a pirate ship, painted black and white.

A few shots later, Finland's hopes were dead, too -- fini -- in a game almost as one-sided as Canada's 7-3 victory over Russia in the quarter-finals. If Canada defeats Slovakia Friday night, the U.S. will play Canada Sunday in the gold medal game, a rematch of the 2002 final in Salt Lake City when the Canadians won.

When it was over, commentators Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick could not restrain their optimistic predictions that Canada would win and qualify. That would be best for NBC, for sure, and probably best also for the National Hockey League in terms of its North American audience.

The N.H.L.'s commissioner, Gary Bettman, made another one of his dour appearances during the second intermission, this time tellling Al Michaels that the league had not decided about allowing its stars to play in the next Winter Games in Russia in 2014 and working in a snide reference to NBC, too.

"We haven't said 'no,'" Bettman said. "We haven't said 'yes.' But, by the way, neither has NBC."

This line of logic, typical for Bettman, falsely made equals of an N.H.L. decision with a network's winning the bidding for television rights. Although NBC has been rightly faulted for some of its tape-delay manipulation in other sports, it has done a pretty good job of hockey in this Olympics and might do better next time.

If you can get its backup cable channels, MSNBC and CNBC, NBC has provided most important games live, with few commercial interruptions. Michaels made a point of saying more than once that Sunday's championship will be live in all time zones, something that should never be a question but often is with this network.

NBC's main hockey announcing team of Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Pierre McGuire has shown its experience and savvy with informed banter. McGuire even created an unintentional pun when telling an anecdote about Tim Thomas, the backup American goalie.

He said Thomas's parents "hocked their wedding rings so he could go to hockey school."