America's hockey team advanced to the Winter Olympics version of the final four tonight, even if the competition more closely resembled Russian roulette on ice.
Rob McClanahan scored two goals and the United States defeated West Germany, 4-2, in a mostly meaningless game.
The Americans now will meet the superb Soviet Union team, which defeated Canada, 6-4, tonight, in the first round of final-four medal competition Friday.
Eleven days ago, the same Soviet team destroyed the Americans, 10-3, in New York's Madison Square Garden.
But the Americans say they have forgotten that game completely. "Our guys hadn't played against the Russians very much before that game and we were kind of in awe," the assistant coach, Craig Patrick, said. "We're going to be playing a lot better this time."
"No team is invincible," said U.S. defenseman Mike Ramsey. "The Russians are close. But any team can be beaten. If we catch them on a bad day, who knows? We've got a shot."
Because of the complicated system of determining hockey medal winners, Soviets already have a jump on the gold even before the two-game competition begins. They won the Red Division with a 5-0 record. Finland (3-2) was the second Red Divison team to qualify, having beaten the Canadians, who also finished 3-2.
Because they beat Finland in the round-robin portion of the competition the Soviets start the final four with two points (two points for a win, one for a tie).
The U.S. and Sweden, both 4-0-1 in round-robin play, qualified for the medal tournament from the Blue Division. They played to a 2-2 tie in head-to-head competition, so they will start the final four with one point each. Finland has no points.
After the two games in the final four, medals will be awarded based on points. The defending champion Soviets are considered a mortal lock.
But the Americans, who will play Finland on Sunday, have been battling long odds this entire tournament. If they can win one of the two remaining games, they will accomplish their original goal -- an Olympic medal of any denomination.
Tonight, the Americans needed to outscore the Germans by seven goals to be seeded ahead of Sweden in their bracket and avoid meeting the Soviets until Sunday.
Earlier in the day Sweden had defeated Czechoslovakia, 4-2, and had a six-goal advantage in point differential used to break ties for seeding.
The Americans had little chance of making up that margin and came out at the start rather uninspired. Goalie Jim Craig, who was superb in the second and third periods, gave up two squishy soft goals -- one on a 70-foot shot by Horst-Peter Kretschmer and a 55-foot slap shot by Udo Kiessling with the Americans a man short for a 2-0 first-period lead.
The Americans tied the game in the second period on goals by McClanahan and Neal Broten. And Craig stopped two West German breakaways during the period to keep his team in the game.
The U.S. wasted no time taking control in the third period, scoring two goals in the first 4 1/2 minutes of play McClanahan got the tiebreaker with a short point-blank shot after eluding a German defender at the sideboards for a 3-2 lead at 1:17 of the period.
Phil Verchota tipped in a shot from the point by Dave Christian for the breathe-easy score at 4:17 for the final period.