U.S. beats Czech Republic to face Canada in semis

U.S. beats Czech Republic to face Canada in semis
February 19, 2014, 2:15 pm
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Patrick Kane of the U.S. celebrates his first-period goal in 5-2 victory over the Czech Republic on Wednesday. (USA Today Images)

SOCHI, Russia -- Dustin Brown banged in a go-ahead goal late in the first period and the United States went on to dominate the Czech Republic 5-2 Wednesday, earning a spot in the Olympic hockey semifinals for the second straight time.

On Friday, the U.S. will play Canada -- a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game -- for a shot to become an Olympic champion. The Canadians held off Latvia 2-1, and they beat the Americans in overtime four years ago.

"It's a great opportunity," American forward Max Pacioretty said. "They're obviously the favorite coming into the tournament, and we've opened up a lot of eyes with our play, but we have more in the tank to give and to show.

"We keep getting better every game and hopefully we'll keep getting better after this one."

James van Riemsdyk gave the Americans a lead 1:39 into the game.

They lost it a few minutes later when one of their defenseman, Ryan McDonagh, tried to clear the puck away from the front of the crease and it went off the left skate of Ryan Suter and got past Jonathan Quick.

The Czechs were not as successful scoring on their own against Quick, who started ahead of 2010 silver-medal winning goaltender Ryan Miller and had 21 saves.

Ales Hemsky was credited with a goal that two Americans touched after he did. Hemsky legitimately scored his second one, skating to the slot and snapping off a wrist shot that got past Quick's blocker with 7 minutes left in the game.

Brown put the U.S. up 2-1 at the 14:38 mark of the first, and David Backes made it 3-1 with 1.8 seconds in the period.

Zach Parise piled on, pushing the Americans' lead to 4-1 midway through the second period to chase goalie Ondrej Pavelec after he made just eight saves. He was replaced by Alexander Salak.

The Americans shaped their roster with players who skate fast, hit hard, share the puck and score.

"It starts off the ice," Pacioretty said. "Everyone on this team realizes you have to play for the team and check your ego at the door. All of us are the top players on our team back home and you come here and you're asked to play different roles.

"You see everyone in the room, willing to go to the dirty areas, block shots, make hits. It's nice to see when you see a guy like Patty Kane backchecking as hard as he can across the ice. It kind of puts things in perspective."

The U.S. has been tested only once in a 3-2, eight-round shootout against the host Russians in the preliminary round. The Americans have crushed the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia by a combined score of 17-4.

While the Czechs had to play for a second straight day because they had to beat Slovakia in the qualification round just to reach the quarterfinals, the rested Americans were ready to roll after having two days off.

The U.S. seemed to take advantage of having fresh legs, beating the Czech Republic to loose pucks all night long.

"They had more energy," Pavelec said. "It's not an excuse, it's just the way it is."

Canada holds off Latvia

SOCHI, Russia -- Shea Weber scored a tiebreaking power-play goal with 6:54 to play, and Canada survived an enormous scare from Latvia to advance to the Olympic men's hockey semifinals with a 2-1 victory Wednesday night.

Carey Price made 15 saves for the defending Olympic champion Canadians, who were stretched to the limit by Latvia goalie Kristers Gudlevskis.

The 21-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning prospect made 55 saves in a spectacular performance, nearly pulling one of the biggest upsets in hockey history largely by himself.

But Weber unleashed his peerless slap shot late in a power play, and Canada finally took the lead on its 54th shot against Gudlevskis.

Canada advanced to a semifinal meeting with the United States on Friday in a rematch of the gold-medal game in Vancouver four years ago.

One night after Latvia recorded its first Olympic victory in 12 years to reach its first quarterfinals, Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan's team improbably tested the champs.

Lauris Darzins scored a breakaway goal in the first period for Latvia, which lost all three of its preliminary-round games before surprising Switzerland 3-1 on Tuesday to advance for the first time. The Baltic nation of 2 million people has been in the last four Olympic fields after a 66-year absence, but hadn't won a game since 2002.

With just one current NHL player, Buffalo's Zemgus Girgensons, and 41-year-old captain Sandis Ozolinsh leading the way, Latvia nearly did even better than fellow underdog Slovenia, which also reached the quarterfinals in Sochi before losing to Sweden.

Gudlevskis, who has mostly played for Syracuse in the AHL this season, mostly stymied the powerful Canadian offense with his scrambling, alert style.

Patrick Sharp scored in the first period for the Canadians, who cruised unbeaten through the preliminary round with three victories. Canada also lost forward John Tavares to injury in the second period.

Canada, which has won two of the last three Olympic tournaments, is the first defending Olympic champion to return to the semifinals since the current Olympic format was introduced in 1992. Nobody has won back-to-back gold medals in Olympic hockey since the Soviet Union in 1984 and 1988, although a unified team of former Soviet republics won the title in 1992 as well.

But a few hours after Russia's Olympic run ended at the Bolshoy Ice Dome with a quarterfinal loss to Finland, Canada created some eerie echoes of the Russians' downfall: Pedigreed forwards failing to score, defensemen making key mistakes and opposing goalies playing phenomenal hockey.

Canada had few major worries about its star-studded team during the first week in Sochi, although fellow semifinalist Finland took the Canadians to overtime. Captain Sidney Crosby's goalless performance and a daily shuffling of the forward lines didn't suggest scoring trouble for such a potent lineup -- particularly not against tiny Latvia.

Canada had quality scoring chances throughout the first period. Crosby missed on a breakaway a moment before linemate Chris Kunitz hit the crossbar on an open net, extending his Olympic funk.

Rick Nash finally engineered a goal with an exceptional play in front of Latvia's net, controlling the puck and circling to find Sharp for a wrist shot through Tavares' screen.

But just 2:04 later, Latvia's Arturs Kulda threaded a long pass through Canada's defense to Darzins, who skated in alone on a prone Price and tied the score with his third goal in two games.

Canada came agonizingly close to scoring on a goal-mouth scramble with 11:33 to play, but defenseman Kristaps Sotnieks reached over his prone goalie's arm to pull the puck off the goal line. The spectacular play seemingly could have resulted in a penalty shot, but the officials allowed the play to stand as called after video review.