On a Wednesday night in Sochi, the United States took on the Czech Republic at Shayba Arena for their chance to continue on to the semifinals. Four hundred feet away at Bolshoy Ice Dome, the Canadians were looking to achieve the same goal. The two games panned out very differently, but with both teams putting up a win, it will be USA versus Canada in a fight to the gold medal game on Friday.
Team USA has dominated almost every team they have faced so far in the Sochi Winter Games, entering the playoff round undefeated and seeded second. Wednesday night was no different. The United States easily skated through Ondrej Pavalec and by the Czech Republic into the semifinals with a decisive 5-2 victory.
The lively boards at Shayba Arena worked well for Team USA as they assisted two back-to-back goals for the Americans that David Backes and Zach Parise buried behind Pavalec from bad angles putting them up 4-1 in the middle of the second. This marked the first goal of the tournament for the captain, Parise, who had been creating great opportunities on the ice but had been unable to put the puck in the net.
Pavelec was pulled after the fourth goal in favor of Alexander Salac who managed to quiet the American’s explosive offense for the remainder of the second period. However, Phil Kessel netted his fifth goal of the tournament, two days after a hat trick against Slovenia, just two minutes into the third off a pass from Ryan Kesler.
Team USA was not without their own goaltending problems though. Jonathan Quick appeared shaky in the first period, giving up several dangerous rebounds and allowing an easy shot from the blue line to trickle through his legs and almost score.
The Czechs only goal in the first, however, came off an unfortunate attempted clear attempt by Ryan McDonagh that bounced off Ryan Suter’s skate and into the back of the net. The play started with a good breakaway by David Krejci after a poorly timed change by Dustin Brown led to an odd-man rush. This wasn’t the only odd-man rush created by bad line changes by the Americans. These mistakes kept the Czech Republic in the game through the first two periods.
Even down 5-1, the Czechs never stopped bringing the pressure. They had endless opportunities and scrambles in front of the net throughout the second and beginning of the third. Luckily for the United States, Quick finally found his stride and the Czechs were only able to cut the lead by one off an Ales Hemsky goal with seven minutes left in the third.
Offensively, the Americans looked very solid with the top three lines all having goals and multiple-point games. Passes were finding the tape of their intended targets and creating several scoring opportunities for Team USA. In the end, after a solid 55-minute fight the Czechs didn’t pull Salac in favor of an extra skater, as the American offense was too strong.
Going into the semifinals, the United States feels slightly more optimistic than their Canadian rivals. Team USA has outscored their opponents 20-6 so far in the tournament whereas Canada is coming off a close 2-1 victory over the huge underdogs from Latvia. This semifinal matchup between these historic rivals will take place on Friday at noon, following the 7 a.m. Finland vs. Sweden semifinal game.
Emotions will run high as the United States will either be looking to eliminate the second Canadian hockey team from the Olympic tournament or exact revenge on the Canadians, depending on the outcome of the women’s gold medal game Thursday morning at noon.