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Czechs top Slovakia for date with U.S.

by Staff Writer / New Jersey Devils

SOCHI -- A strong start for the Czech Republic proved decisive Tuesday against rival Slovakia, but a trip to the quarterfinals in the 2014 Sochi Olympics wasn't without some nervy moments near the end.

Roman Cervenka scored a pair of goals to help the Czech Republic defeat Slovakia 5-3 to set up a quarterfinal match Wednesday against the United States (Noon ET, USA, TSN2).

The Slovaks got within a goal after falling behind 4-0 to start the game, but a slashing penalty to prevent a 2-on-1 in the final minute and an empty-net goal from Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec ended any doubt.

The Czechs were the aggressors at the start and dominated much of the first period. A pair of goals 29 seconds apart put them in control.

Ales Hemsky snapped home a shot from the slot at 6:53 for his first goal of the tournament. The Edmonton Oilers forward began these Olympics as the extra forward for the Czechs, but he's become a fixture on the second line in short order.

Plekanec banged a shot off the post seconds later and Cervenka was there to put in the rebound at 7:22. Cervenka had nine goals and 17 points in 39 games last season with the Calgary Flames before returning to the Kontinental Hockey League this season.

David Krejci added a second power-play goal for the Czechs to forge a three-goal lead. Former NHL defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who had two assists, sent a pass to Krejci for a one-timer from the left circle, and the Boston Bruins center ripped it into the top-left corner at 17:03. Krejci and Kaberle were teammates on the Bruins' Stanley Cup championship team in 2011.

Slovakia played better at the onset of the second period but was unable to cut into the lead. Cervenka added his second goal of the game at 15:41 of the second. He stripped the puck from Andrej Sekera near the Slovak blue line and patiently waited out goaltender Jan Laco before flicking a backhanded shot from a tight angle just inside the post.

Laco, a backup to former NHL goaltender Michael Leighton in the KHL, had 36 saves in a 1-0 shootout loss to Russia in the last preliminary-round game and was given the start ahead of St. Louis Blues netminder Jaroslav Halak, but he was unable to conjure similar magic two days later.

Marian Hossa got the Slovak deficit back down to three goals at 18:57 of the second. His Chicago Blackhawks teammate, Michal Handzus, carried the puck behind the net and backhanded a pass to Hossa who scored his first goal of the tournament.

He added his second at 7:20 of the third to make it 4-2. Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec stopped Tomas Tatar's whirling backhanded shot from the left wing but Hossa hammered the rebound past him.

Slovakia kept the pressure on and it became a one-goal game 91 seconds later. Forward Tomas Surovy scored on a one-timer in transition from the high slot and Czech Republic coach Alois Hadamczik called timeout to regroup.

Plekanec's empty-net goal with 39 seconds left clinched the victory.

The Czech Republic now is 4-0-0 against Slovakia in the Olympics, and 13-3-1 including games in the IIHF World Championship.

Corey Masisak

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