The Associated Press

LILLEHAMMER, Norway _ The Americans say they don't need a miracle to win hockey gold. They might, counter the Finns.

It will be very difficult for them to beat us," said Finland coach Curt Lindstrom, whose team meets the United States today in the Olympic quarterfinals. "This team is so motivated and hungry right now."

If both Finland (5-0) and the United States (1-1-3) play their best, Lindstrom said yesterday, the Finns will win. Then he compared his team _ which has allowed only 62 shots and four goals _ to the dominant Soviet clubs of the 1970s and '80s.

I have said too much," he said, "but I don't care."

U.S. coach Tim Taylor didn't care for Lindstrom's comments at all. When the statements were relayed, Taylor's eyes narrowed, a frown crossed his face and he didn't respond.

Taylor did say that even as well as the Finns have played in becoming the tournament's only unbeaten and untied team, a U.S. victory would be only a mild upset.

We're not going into this thing fearing the outcome," he said. "We're going in looking forward to the challenge."

Though the U.S. team finished preliminary play with the worst record of the eight playoff qualifiers, Taylor said winning a medal _ specifically a gold _ remains a realistic

If this team succeeds here, I don't think it would have the miracle proportions of '80 because the playing field now is just so much more level than it was in the '70s and '80s." he said.