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CZE (2), SVK (3)

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
MYTISCHI, Russia – There are rivalries in the NHL, and there are rivalries in international hockey. And tonight at Arena Mytischi, the folks in attendance witnessed a memorable match-up between two foes whose rivalry has few peers.


Marian Gaborik’s third period goal proved to be the game-winner as Slovakia earned a hard fought 3-2 win over the Czech Republic in qualifying round action on Saturday. Karol Krizan made 26 saves to ensure victory for Slovakia.

“It’s always special, a special game for us,” said Capitals and Slovakian defenseman Milan Jurcina. “Especially for the Czechs and Slovaks at the World Championships. It’s possibly like Finland and Sweden. We stuck together, then we separated countries. From that time we’ve always been battling. If it’s soccer or a hockey game, all the games, it’s a big battle.”

The first period was not brimming with offensive activity. The Czechs drew first blood on a Tomas Plekanec power play strike at 8:02 of the first frame. The two teams combined for a mere 11 shots on goal in the first, with the Czechs holding a 7-4 advantage in that department.

Slovakia evened the score on a Pavol Demitra goal at 22:24. Demitra’s linemates Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa assisted. All three players were playing Stanley Cup playoff hockey in recent weeks, but they now join forces to form one of the tournament’s most dominant lines.

Some eight minutes later, Slovakia grabbed the lead for the first time and for good. With the Czechs about to go shorthanded and Slovakia enjoying the benefits of an extra skater on a delayed power play, Slovak defenseman Peter Podhradsky made a great play to keep the puck in at the Czech blueline. He skated the puck behind the net, and just as he was about to be stripped, he left the puck for Miroslav Satan who was coming behind the cage in the opposite direction. Satan quickly flipped a pass in front where Richard Kapus was waiting. Kapus wheeled a backhander past Cechmanek at 30:44.

“The first couple periods we tried to play real well on the backside,” said Jurcina. “Play tight defense because these guys are really skilled guys, fast guys. You have to be careful with that. Every chance we had the puck in the zone, we just tried to put the puck at the net and make some scoring chances.”

The Czechs brought everything they had in the third. They buzzed the net and created quality chances, but had no success. The Czechs enjoyed a power play chance midway through the final frame, but Krizon was marvelous and he protected Slovakia’s one-goal lead.

The Slovaks killed the penalty, and soon thereafter broke the puck out of their own zone with speed. Satan and Gaborik worked a bit of a give-and-go, and Gaborik made a dexterous move to kick the return pass from his skates to his stick. He then skated in, got goaltender Roman Cechmanek to commit, and fired a wrist shot over the goaltender’s failed stacked pad save bid.

With less than seven minutes remaining, the Czechs were down a pair at 3-1. But they weren’t done yet. Rostislav Olesz fired two shots in quick succession on Krizon, and the goaltender stopped them both. The rebound of the second shot kicked out to pinching defenseman Rostislav Klesla and he banged it into an empty cage to return the deficit to one. Klesla’s goal came just 45 seconds after Gaborik’s goal had given Slovakia a two-goal lead.

The Slovaks weathered a late storm and some last-minute chippiness to skate off with a win that evened them in the standings with their rivals. Both Slovakia and the Czechs have six points and are tied for third behind Canada and Team USA in the Group F standings.

NOTEBOOK
It’s THAT Petr Sykora – Former Capital Petr Sykora was in the lineup for the Czechs, wearing No. 37. The third-round choice (76th overall) of the Detroit Red Wings in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, Sykora played in 10 games with Washington in 2005-06, totaling two goals and four points. His lasting distinction in Capitals history will be the fact that he netted the winning tally in the Capitals’ first-ever shootout victory, a triumph over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct, 16, 2005.

Sykora has two goals and five points and is a plus-2 in five games in the tournament to date.

Splitsville – Slovakia has split its netminding duties down the middle, going with Krizan for two games and Jaroslav Halak for two. Tonight’s tilt with the Czechs was Slovakia’s fifth game, and it went with Krizan between the pipes.

Halak made a mark for himself in North America this season, posting stellar numbers in both the AHL and the NHL.

The 26-year-old Krizan was never drafted. After four seasons as a pro in his native country, he went to Sweden where he has spent the last two seasons goaltending for Modo of the Swedish Elite League.

Pod People – Podhradsky was a fifth-round (134th overall) choice of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He came to North America immediately after he was drafted, and played three seasons with the AHL’s Cincinnati Mighty Ducks. He spent 2003-04 in the Czech League and split the following campaign between the Czech and Slovak Leagues. Podhradsky did not play in 2005-06, and resumed his career with the Frankfurt Lions of the German League in 2006-07. He has now played professionally in four different nations.

CAPS’s THREE STARS:

1.    Krizan – he was at his best when he needed to be, making 17 of his 26 saves in the third period when the game was on the line.

2.    Gaborik – Gaborik’s line was dominant throughout a game in which the Slovaks did not muster a great deal of offense. The line accounted for two of the team’s three goals, four of the team’s 15 shots on goal and was a combined plus-5 on the night.

3.    Plekanec – He got the Czechs on the board first, and picked up an assist on Klesla’s goal in the third, the one that kept the team’s hopes alive.

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