Hockey Notebook: 2006 champ Sweden falls
Slovakia defenseman Andrej Sekera, right, celebrates with teammate Richard Zednik following a goal Wednesday night.
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Near the end of Canada's rout of Russia Wednesday night, the partisan fans chanted, "We want Sweden!"
Sweden, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist, was brought down by Slovakia, 4-3, in the last of the quarterfinal games late Wednesday night. And it is Slovakia that will face a resurgent Canadian team in the semifinal Friday.
Marian Gaborik, Andrej Sekera, Pavol Demitra and Tomas Kopecky scored for Slovakia, and goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who made 26 saves, helped them hang onto the one-goal lead with a sharp save on Sweden defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom in the waning seconds.
Sweden had been 4-0, and its goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, had not given up a goal in the Olympics. But both of those streaks ended, as the team as a whole lacked passion until the third period, and Lundqvist was tagged for four goals on just 14 shots.
Slovakia already had beaten Russia in the tournament, and its handful of top-shelf NHL players made this no more than a mild upset, even though Slovakia's trip to a semifinal will represent its best finish. The previous best was fifth in 2006.
The United States' semifinal opponent, Finland, followed a nearly identical blueprint to the Americans' to advance late Wednesday night: The Finns beat the Czech Republic by the same score, 2-0, broke a scoreless tie in the third, got a power-play deflection on the critical goal, then sealed the shutout on an empty netter.
Niklas Hagman's tip with 6:26 remaining put the Finns ahead by one, Valtteri Filppula scored the empty netter, and Miikka Kiprusoff had the 31-save shutout. Finland, the 2006 silver medalist, is the oldest team in the tournament with an average age of 30.3.
Jaromir Jagr played for the Czechs after missing much of their previous game with a neck injury. Some have speculated he was hurt on the seismic hit by Russia's Alexander Ovechkin Sunday, but that was not confirmed.
For Jagr, 38, it likely was his last appearance in the Olympics.
Canada's Eric Staal, Sidney Crosby's left winger, was felled and dazed by a hit from Russia's Anton Volchenkov in the third period of their quarterfinal Wednesday, but Staal returned to action and said afterward he was fine.
Most of the also-ran nations eliminated in the qualification round Tuesday took their medicine and left quietly. Not Germany forward Marco Sturm, an NHL forward who clearly is tired of his country's program making so few strides.
Asked if the program's future is positive, Sturm replied, "Not really. It's going to keep going the same for a very very long time. They've got to support the young guys more and, if they don't do it, it's going to be like this for a very, very long time."
Germany has roughly 30,000 registered hockey players, about a tenth of what is registered in Toronto alone.
First Published February 25, 2010 2:00 am