Slovakia's win is one for the ages
Tuesday, 08.16.2011 / 5:14 AM
Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer
Pavol Demitra called it the biggest win in Slovakia's ice hockey history and it's hard to disagree with him.
Hours after Canada steamrolled the Russians here at Canada Hockey Place to earn a berth in the semifinals, Slovakia stunned Sweden, 4-3, winning the right to try to take down the big bad Canadians on Friday night at 9:30 p.m. ET.
No matter the outcome, the Slovaks have already had their best Olympics ever. Their previous best was four years ago in Torino when they finished fifth after coming in 13th at Salt Lake in 2002.
"We've got nothing to lose," Tomas Kopecky, who scored the winning goal with 10:59 left in the third period, told NHL.com. "They are the favorites. We're just going to play a solid hockey game and that's how we're going to win."
The Slovaks didn't make their way to the international ice hockey stage until 1994, one year after the breakup of Czechoslovakia. That year they finished 21st in the World Championships and sixth in the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
They improved in each of the next seven years and finally peaked in 2002 by winning gold at the IIHF World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden. Six players from that team played in Wednesday night's game.
"We know we can play," Demitra, who had a goal and two assists, told NHL.com. "Obviously it's the biggest win for our country ever, and we're having a great time. We have a group of guys that this will be the last time we play together ever, so we're enjoying it and we're working hard for each other."
Slovakia staggered to a 4-3 win as the favorite in Tuesday night's qualification round game against upstart Norway. Marian Hossa told NHL.com afterward that he felt Slovakia would be better against Sweden because it would be the underdog and could go back to playing a more structured, disciplined game.
That's precisely what happened.
Slovakia managed only seven shots on goal over the final two periods, but four of them beat Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Slovaks had only 14 shots for the game while Jaroslav Halak stopped 26 of 29 from Sweden.
"We are a very disciplined team defensively," Marian Gaborik told NHL.com. "I think it was a tight game overall, Halak was great in net and we got the edge on Lundqvist. It's a big game for us. Huge."
Gaborik scored on a low, sliding one-timer 7:34 into the second period to give Slovakia a 1-0 lead. Less than a minute later, Andrej Sekera finished off a 2-on-1 with Richard Zednik with a slam dunk goal to make it 2-0.
Sweden came back to get a pair from Patric Hornqvist and Henrik Zetterberg just 37 seconds apart, but Demitra staked Slovakia to a 3-2 lead by wiring his blistering slap shot from the left circle into the top right corner of the net for a power-play goal with 48 seconds left in the second period.
Michal Handzus took Sweden defenseman Mattias Ohlund to the front of the net and Lundqvist told NHL.com he couldn't see the puck coming off Demitra's stick between the two big bodies in front of him.
"And he just took a perfect shot," Lundqvist said.
"When (Handzus) is in front there, he knows what he's doing," Demitra added. "He put a great screen for me and I just let it go. It somehow found the right corner."
Demitra helped set up Kopecky's winning goal by racing out for a 2-on-1 with Marian Hossa. As he saucered the pass across to Hossa, Kopecky filled the middle lane. Lundqvist came out to play the puck, but it stayed free in the slot and Kopecky was there to bang it in, giving Slovakia a 4-2 lead.
"I knew Pavol was going to pass it to Marian and I was just hoping there would be a loose puck, a rebound," Kopecky said. "I went to the net hard, stopped in front and that's how you get the goals.
"It's really exciting. It was unbelievable."
Sweden answered Kopecky's goal 38 seconds later when Daniel Alfredsson finished off a gorgeous behind-the-net pass from Nicklas Backstrom. However, Slovakia never panicked, kept playing its defensive game and stayed out of the penalty box to preserve the lead and the win.
"We did everything we were talking about doing before the game," Gaborik said. "There was a system, being disciplined, being on the puck and winning the battles. We did all of that and Halak was great in net. I'm proud of these guys."
The Slovaks now have every reason to believe they can beat Canada, too. They already took down Russia in a shootout during the preliminary round and they just sent the defending gold medalists packing, too.
"We have to play the same way we did (Wednesday)," Gaborik said. "This was an unbelievable game from everybody."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com
0 3 1 - 4
0 2 1 - 3
- Pahlsson SWE (roughing) 9:31, Zednik SVK (interference) 10:22, Johansson SWE (tripping) 11:36, Tallinder (hooking) 16:04.
1. SVK, Gaborik (Hossa, Demitra) 7:34 (PPG)
2. SVK, Sekera (Zednik, Palffy) 8:11
3. SWE, Hornqvist (Forsberg) 13:49
4. SWE, Zetterberg (Enstrom) 14:26
5. SVK, Demitra (Chara, Marian Hossa) 19:12 (PPG)
- SWE (too many players on the ice) 6:19, Enstrom SWE (tripping) 18:19, Cibak SVK (tripping) 19:33.
6. SVK, Kopecky (Marian Hossa, Demitra) 9:01
7. SWE, Alfredsson (Backstrom, Eriksson) 9:39
- Gaborik SVK (roughing) 2:41.
SHOTS ON GOAL
7 4 3 - 14
7 12 10 - 29
(goals-shots against) - SVK: Halak (W, 3-29); SWE: Lundqvist (L, 4-14).
(goals-chances) - SVK: 2-5; SWE: 0-3.