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USA Eliminated by Czech Republic

by Andy Potts / Winnipeg Jets

The Czechs took maximum advantage of a major penalty on U.S. captain Justin Abdelkader to march into a semi-final against either Belarus or Sweden.

A feisty second period at Chizhkovka Arena swung this game firmly in the Czechs' favour with clinical special teams and two big refereeing calls giving both sets of fans plenty to discuss. But the one unarguable fact was that the Czechs took full advantage of their chances, enabling them to grab a 4-3 win and end the hopes of a youthful American team in the last eight.

After a 1-1 tie in the first period, the outcome of the game was settled around the midway point. First Abdelkader took a 5+20 for charging Vladimir Sobotka after the Czech forward had unleashed a shot into Tim Thomas' near post. The 27-year-old vigourously queried the call, but after catching his opponent late with his shoulder the officials had little other alternative.

And it took just 10 seconds for the Czechs to score on the power play. Jaromir Jagr found Jiri Novotny in the slot and after his shot was blocked Tomas Hertl eagerly swept home the rebound.

There was more debate 20 seconds after that, and this time the Czech fans were aggrieved after Roman Cervenka had a goal chalked off by the video referee. The call from the stadium announcer was that the forward had kicked the puck past Thomas, while the replay seemed to suggest that the issue was more about whether the puck had completely crossed the line.

Cervenka acted quickly to put that controversy to bed, getting an undisputed score on 28:06. Thomas made the initial save from Jan Kolar but nobody was ready to deal with the rebound and the Czechs' SKA St. Petersburg forward had a simple task to pouch his second marker of the tournament.

Team USA came close to reducing the arrears when Tommy Wingels rattled the frame of Salak's goal, but as both sides continued to trade penalties the Czechs profited once again.

Brock Nelson returned to the sin-bin shortly after completing a misconduct penalty, and while he was there he witnessed a sight familar to followers of Lev Prague's KHL play-off run. Ondrej Nemec let rip with a slapper from the blue line and watched it fly into the net while Jiri Novotny supplied the traffic in front of the net.

Three unanswered Czech goals in the second period - all of them on the power play - seemed to have effectively ended the game as a contest, reversing the outcome of the teams' last encounter at the same stage of the Sochi Olympics.

But the USA refused to give up, and after spending much of the third period knocking at Alexander Salak's door Tyler Johnson popped up with two quick fire goals as the 59th minute melted into the 60th to set the alarm bells jangling on the Czech bench. With 50 seconds still to play, and the margin down to a single goal, the Americans laid siege to the Czech goal, penning the play into the end zone and peppering Salak with shots. But there was no way through; Craig Smith's angled slap shot was the last action as the defence desperately kept the rebound away from the marauding Johnson.

There was a certain irony in seeing the Americans put to the sword by an opposing power play; in the group stage Peter Laviolette's special teams had prospered when the USA had a man advantage. And in the opening session that potent power play struck again, punishing the Czechs for a fairly needless cross-check by Sobotka by scoring in the seventh minute. Nelson claimed the goal, redirecting Peter Mueller's slap shot from the blue line to take the American PP to 11 from 37 and open the scoring in the game.

But a typical U.S. performance involves plenty of goals being traded: while only Russia and Canada scored more in the group stage, the defensive record was weaker than any other team in the quarter-finals. It took less than three minutes for the Czechs to tie it up, aided by some more uncertain goaltending from Thomas. The veteran stopper blocked Jan Kovar's initial shot but as he floundered on his crease Tomas Rolinek was able to bundle the puck into the net to claim his first goal of the competition.

The next big chance went to the Americans, but turned into something of comedy of errors. A Czech power play came undone as Petr Zamorsky coughed up the puck in centre ice, but Nelson and Tyler Johnson somehow contrived to botch their 2-on-0 breakaway, failing to get a shot on Salak. The Czechs' second-period power plays were far more dangerous, and an American revival in the third could not seriously endanger the European team's commanding advantage until it was too late.

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