FINAL SCORE: USA 5, Czech Republic 2
Team USA is moving on to the Olympic hockey semi-final after whipping the Czech Republic 5-2 on Wednesday.
The Americans got to Ondrej Pavelec early when James van Riemsdyk beat the Czech starter from a bad angle just 1:39 into the game. The Czechs evened things up on a Team USA own goal when Ryan McDonagh's clearing attempt ricocheted off the skate of Ryan Suter and past goalie Jonathan Quick just three minutes later.
But after that, it was all Team USA, with the newly constructed line of David Backes, Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan leading the charge. Assembled to shut down the Czech's Jaromir Jagr line, the trio did that and then some, contributing a pair of first period goals, including a buzzerbeater from Backes, to give the Americans a lead they would not relinquish.
Zach Parise, with his first goal of the tournament, and Phil Kessel, with his team leading fifth tally, closed out the scoring for Team USA. Ales Hemsky, who was credited with the Czechs' first goal, added a late third period marker to account for his team's scoring.
It was another convincing win for the Americans, who were rarely tested by the overmatched Czechs. They now lead the tournament with 19 goals while allowing just six.
They'll next face Canada, which barely survived an epic goaltending performance by Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Kristers Gudlevskis to squeak past Latvia, 2-1. Although Canada has struggled in the tournament, scoring just 11 times, seven of them by defensemen Drew Doughty and Shea Weber, they've proved that they can handle the pressure of a tight game and should be the most formidable opponent the Americans will face.
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To get a better sense of the flow of the USA-Czech Republic game, scroll down to the bottom of the page and read your way back up.
2:27: No matter what happens next, it's safe to assume that Ted Nolan is in the running to coach Team Canada at the next big event. That wasn't just goaltending--that was world class preparation and complete buy-in by a team that was wildly overmatched on paper but full value when the puck hit the ice.
2:23: Face-off deep in Latvia zone...Canada wins...and that's it. Canada survives, barely, and will meet Team USA in the semis.
2:20: Last minute of play in the Canada-Latvia game. Latvia has pulled Gudlevskis. Faceoff deep in the Canada zone after this timeout.
2:18: And there's the final horn, Team USA advances to Friday's semi-final match with a decisive 5-2 win over the Czechs. We could know their opponent in the next minute or so.
2:17: So who does Bylsma match the Backes/Brown/Callahan line against in the semis? Weber or Doughty?
2:15: Update -- CANADA GOAL! Shea Weber plays the part of Paul Henderson, scores on Canada's 54th shot. Now 2-1 for Canada.
2:14: Down to three minutes to go in USA game; both sides seem content to run out the clock and get out of this game in one piece.
2:11: Team USA to the power play. Zidlicky to the box for slashing with just over 13 minutes remaining in the third.
2:09: Canada just landed their 50th shot on Gudlevskis. Still 1-1, about five minutes to go. If it gets to that point, it'll be a 10-minute sudden death OT, followed by a shootout.
2:07: A turnover by Stastny leads to a Czech Republic goal by Ales Hemsky with seven minutes to go in the third. That's his second of the game. Terrific shot, used Cam Fowler as a screen and beat Quick high stick side.
2:04: Pretty sure that was Blake Wheeler's first shift of the game.
2:00: Back to full strength in the USA game. One shot on goal for the Americans, but not much pressure. 11 minutes to go in this one.
1:59: Mike Babcock grasping at straws now in Canada game: Sidney Crosby between Patrick Sharp and Rick Nash.
1:57: Latvia gets a huge break. Kristaps Sotnieks covered a loose puck in the crease with his glove. Should have been a penalty shot, but none called.
1:55: Latvia finally gets a shot six minutes into the third of their game against Canada. If there is a Latvian film industry, they're already starting to cast the roles for the movie version of this game.
1:53: Team USA winning all the puck battles now. Too quick off the mark for the Czechs to keep up.
1:50: That's Kessel's fifth goal in four games here in Sochi. I think four of 'em have traveled 10 feet between them.
1:49: TEAM USA goal! Phil Kessel at 2:01. Blows by Radko Gudas, takes a sweet pass from Kesler right in the paint for an easy tip in.
1:47: Jagr, Plekanec and Hanzal with a terrific opening shift, nearly bang one past Quick after a furious scramble out front. And that positioning by the ref was textbook. No goal, but the Czechs showing some life.
1:46: The third period is underway between USA and Czech Republic.
1:45: Third period underway between Canada and Latvia, with CAN on the PP for 94 seconds. No John Tavares on the bench after taking a hard hit late in the second.
1:43: Patrik Elias clearly not back at full strength. Played just 2:59 in the second. You'd think if he had anything to give that Hadamczik would ride him hard. Then again...Hadamczik.
1:42: Jaromir Jagr with just 9:22 of TOI through two. No shots on net.
1:38: This pretty much sums up Canada's day against Latvia so far...
1:31: That's the end of two. Team USA spent most of that period dotting their i's and crossing their t's. A smart, physically dominant period from the Americans.
1:30: Shots now 35-11 for Canada in that 1-1 tie. Think Steve Yzerman's going to get a lot of calls after this one, either asking what went wrong for Canada or whether he might be willing to move Kristers Gudlevskis.
1:27: A Jake Voracek trip kills off the Czech PP immediately. Goes to the box for tripping T.J. Oshie. Four-on-four for the next minute and a half.
1:24: Backes with two chances while lying on his stomach, but Salak stands tall. Brooks Orpik now going to the box after plastering Jaromir Jagr into the boards. Obviously a key moment for the Czechs who need to find some traction fast.
1:23: Not a lot of push back from the Czechs since giving up that power play goal. Playing like they know this one's gotten away from them.
1:21: Is there an upset brewing in the other game? Shots are 31-9 for Canada, but the game is tied at 1 midway through the second. How do you say "miracle' in Latvian?
1:18: Was just reminded that Ryan Suter deserves a bit of love for his effort today. After a couple of shaky shifts early, he's been rock solid in the defensive zone. Also has three assists so far.
1:14: Game on!
1:11: Just go ahead and give Backes the first star now. Jagr's line has been invisible and he's been involved in three of the four American goals. A beast-mode effort from the big man.
1:09: Delay in the action after a panel of glass is broken.
1:08: And that's it for Pavelec, who simply blew his chances on two of the four Team USA goals and was out of position on the other two. Former Blackhawk Alexander Salak in the net now.
1:06: TEAM USA goal! Zach Parise a no-look forehander from the side of the net.
1:03: Team USA to the power play. Zbynek Michalek to the box with 8:27 gone in the second.
12:58: Czech defense is starting to wither. Really having trouble picking up the second and third attackers on the past couple of American sorties
12:56: This thing's far from over, but watching Dan Bylsma school Alois Hadamczik is a good reminder that Team USA's greatest advantage is behind the bench. The Czech program will remain a mess as long as he's in charge.
12:54: And the puck is dropped for the second period.
12:49: Not sure what Mike Babcock is seeing in the other game, but six Canadian forwards had more ice time than Sidney Crosby in the first period. That's going to be a big story if Latvia pulls off the upset.
12:45: Ryan Kesler led Team USA forwards with 5:59 in that period. Ryan McDonagh had 7:39 on the back end, nearly a minute more than Ryan Suter. Brown and van Riemsdyk each had three shots.
12:41: Czechs had that strong stretch of play early and had the Americans on their heels. They had their chance to assert themselves, but couldn't get it done.
12:40: That one's a dagger. Kaberle caught looking the other way leaves Backes all alone at the side of the net for the buzzer beater. That line was put together for their defense. Huge to get those goals out of them as well.
12:38: Team USA goal! David Backes from a wicked angle with 1.8 seconds to go, picked up a rebound off the wall and beat a sprawling Pavelec high.
12:37: Quick, big stop through traffic as Zidlicky lets one go from the top of the slot.
12:36: JVR throws another terrible angle shot from the goal line at Pavelec. Worked the first time, but Pavelec comes up with the stop on this one.
12:34: American defense has settled down nicely over the past five minutes. Forwards helping out with better gaps.
12:33: Sensational glove save by Pavelec on Brown while being bowled over by Ryan Callahan. Remember that one.
12:32: In the Canada game, Darzins ties it up for Latvia on a breakaway. About three minutes left in the first of that QF match.
12:28: Team USA goal! Dustin Brown from Backes and Suter. A terrific cross crease pass by Backes fools the Czech D, leaving a wide open net for Brown. Just over five minutes left in the first.
12:25: In other action, Patrick Sharp has scored to give Canada a 1-0 lead over Latvia.
12:23: Terrific stop by Pavelec as the Czech defense loses sight of an American forward trailing the play. That was JVR on that American chance. Zidlicky lost his check.
12:21: We're almost 12 minutes into the first period. Terrific pace by both sides, but the Czechs continue their edge in play. Keep an eye on Quick. He's looked scrambly early on and has slid well out of the net on a couple occasions.
12:20: Czechs are beating the Americans to every loose puck now. Bylsma sends out the Backes line to try to reel this one back in.
12:18: Czechs dominating possession in the American end. Great pressure as Nedved rings one off the post.
12:16: Coach Dan Bylsma looking to the Backes-Callahan-Brown line to stymie Jaromir Jagr. They're getting a body on him quickly early on.
12:14: Give the Czechs credit. They learned the lesson that you've got to control the middle and drive the net to score against Team USA. That was a nice play by Michalek to gain the zone and put it on the stick of Hemsky who baffled McDonagh and Suter with that move.
12:12: The Czechs tie it up. Ales Hemsky drives the net, spins around the American D and is stopped by Quick. But Ryan McDonagh mishandles the clear, sending it off Ryan Suter's skate and past Quick.
12:08: And just like that, it's 1-0 Team USA. James van Riemsdyk beats Ondrej Pavelec on the short side. Kesler and Kane with the assists. Brutal goal for Pavelec to allow, but that's exactly the kind of softy that he's famous for.
12:06: And we're underway.
12:01: As I wrote yesterday the Czechs are an older team, especially on the back end where they rely heavily on Marek Zidlicky (37) and Tomas Kaberle (35). Old legs that looked a little tired yesterday, especially during Slovakia's third-period comeback attempt, should be tested early and often by America's speed.
11:50: The main takeaway from this: Dan Bylsma is trying to get Zach Parise. He's been all but invisible to this point and while Kane hasn't yet found the net, he has his legs going. If this team is going to win three more games, they need both of those players to make some kind of impact.
11:46: Here are Team USA's slightly revamped lines for today's game, per USA Hockey:
Dustin Brown – David Backes – Ryan Callahan
Zach Parise – Ryan Kesler – Patrick Kane
James van Riemsdyk – Joe Pavelski – Phil Kessel
Max Pacioretty – Paul Stastny – T.J. Oshie
extra: Blake Wheeler
Ryan Suter – Ryan McDonagh
Cam Fowler – Kevin Shattenkirk
Brooks Orpik – Paul Martin
extra: John Carlson
Today's scratches: Derek Stepan, Justin Faulk, Jimmy Howard
11:45: Welcome to our live coverage of Team USA's quarterfinal match against the Czechs.
PREVIEW: Breaking it down, who to watch