Wednesday, February 19, 2014

USA rolls its way into a semifinal against Canada

Sochi,  Russia -- James van  Riemsdyk,  Dustin Brown  and David  Backes  tallied in a three-goal  first period, as the United States put 32  years of frustration to rest and gained a spot in the semifinals thanks to a 5-2 decision over the Czech Republic on Wednesday.

Zach  Parise and  Phil Kessel also lit  the lamp for the Americans, who hadn't beaten  the Czechs  -- or  its previous  incarnation as  Czechoslovakia --  in Olympic play since 1980 and will face Canada in a Friday semifinal.

"This was certainly one I think we all wanted and possibility looked to," U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma said. "You don't want to get ahead of yourself. We knew we were going to have some big games prior to this point in time, but you were looking forward to the possibility of this rematch and now we have it in the semifinals. I know our group and our guys are ready for it and looking forward to it. We certainly had to win some hockey games and do well before this point, but now we have the rematch with the Canadians."

The  defending  gold medalist Canadians  squeaked past  Latvia, 2-1, on a late power-play marker from Shea Weber. Their path through the USA got a little bit tougher when it was revealed after the game that Joh Tavares will not play for the remainder of the tournament after suffering a left knee injury.

Ryan  Suter added three  assists and Ryan Kesler picked up two more helpers to back a 21-save effort by Jonathan Quick.

Ales  Hemsky recorded  both scores for the  Czechs, who came up short in their quest  to medal  for the first time  since taking bronze in Torino eight years prior.

Starter  Ondrej  Pavelec was pulled early  in the second period after yielding four goals on 12 shots. Alexander Salak finished up with 12 stops.

Van  Riemsdyk measured Pavelec from the goal line to the right of his net just 1:39  after the drop of the puck, but Hemsky was credited with the tying score on a scramble in front at 4:31.

Pavelec  was rescued by his post on a Kessel drive minutes later, but the iron was  no reinforcement after  Brown was left alone at the left side to accept a Backes  pass  and score  into a half-open  net to  make it 2-1  for the USA at 14:38.

"There’s a lot of talented guys on this team and I’m on it too," Backes said when asked if it was tough for him to crack the scoreboard despite his team's Olympic-best output.

Backes  sent the Americans to intermission with a 3-1 edge, scoring just ahead of the buzzer by taking a Ryan Suter miss that caromed off the back boards and tucking it home from the right side.

"That goal was the biggest difference in the game," Czech forward Jakub Voracek said of that crucial marker. "There's two seconds to go in the period, we have to make sure we lock it up."

The  end  boards factored  into  the  USA's fourth  goal  of  the contest,  as Joe  Pavelski's  point blast went wide,  but Parise alertly followed up with a chance from the goal line off the carom at 9:31.

Kessel sped to the net and tapped in a long Ryan Kesler cross-ice feed to make it  5-1  for the USA and  officially welcome Salak  to the game just after the two-minute mark of the third.

Quick  was finally beaten again on a blistering drive from Hemsky from between the  circles  with seven minutes to  play, but the seasoned Czechs had nothing left for a comeback.

Friday's other semifinal features a rematch of the 2006 title game, with Sweden and Finland battling for supremacy. The Swedes took down Slovenia, 5-0, while the Finns banished host Russia with a 3-1 decision.

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