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Czech Republic battles Slovakia for quarterfinal berth

by Jon Lane


When: Tuesday, Noon ET (NBCSN, CBC)

Where: Shayba Arena

What's at stake: A veteran Czech Republic team with high hopes entering the 2014 Sochi Olympics suddenly finds itself as the seventh seed in the qualification round. Their struggles, however, pale in comparison to Slovakia, which lost 7-1 to the United States, was on the losing end of Slovenia's first-ever Olympic victory, and finished winless in preliminary play. The winner moves on to the quarterfinals, and the loser will be eliminated from the tournament.

Slovakia: Off those disturbing losses to the U.S. and Slovenia, Slovakia turned to its third goalie, Jan Laco, over NHL players Jaroslav Halak and Peter Budaj. Laco nearly stole the game Sunday from Russia before falling 1-0 in a shootout.

"[Laco] was amazing. He kept us in the game," defenseman Andrej Meszaros said. "We had some chances, but we helped him too defensively. That's what teams do. The goalie helps us, and we help the goalie."

The backup to former NHL goalie Michael Leighton with Donbass of the Kontinental Hockey League, Laco made 36 saves, 15 in the third period, to help force Russia into a qualifying-round game against Norway while boosting the Slovaks’ confidence.

"I really thought we had good bounce-back after [Saturday against Slovenia]," captain Zdeno Chara said. "We just have to build on that and get ready for our next opponent. You always have a chance in this tournament no matter what you do in your first games. You can still move along if you win that do-or-die game. We have to get ready for that."

Czech Republic: A 1-0 loss to Switzerland on Saturday left the Czech Republic frustrated with its inability to solve goalie Jonas Hiller. Led by Jaromir Jagr, who is playing in his fifth Olympics and scored a goal in each of the first two games in Sochi, the Czechs still feature plenty of offensive talent and hope to have forward Patrik Elias back from an illness.

"Both teams had their chances, but I think we had a little bit more," said Czech goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 25 shots in defeat Saturday. "Their goalie played really well, and we hit the post twice. If you don't score a goal, you can't win. I think they have a good defensive system, and it is tough to play against them when they score a goal [early]."

What's next: The winner plays the United States in a quarterfinal game Wednesday at noon ET. The U.S. defeated Slovakia 7-1 in the preliminary-round opener for each team.


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