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Disappointing semifinal losses drop Czech Republic, Russia into bronze medal game

NHL.com @NHL

Before the Olympics began, a Czech Republic-Russia matchup would have been considered a possible gold medal game.

So it's to some surprise the two hockey powers find themselves matched up for the bronze Saturday following disappointing semifinal losses.

The Czechs, who came in as the reigning world champions with dominant goaltending and skilled offensive players, never found their rhythm during the tournament and lost 7-3 to Sweden on Friday, dropping them into the third-place game.

Russia suffered similar disappointment of its own, falling 4-0 to Finland in Friday's other semifinal.

"We got what we deserved," Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov said. "I think the score pretty much sums it up. We did not play well and we did not deserve to win. They were hungrier than we were and I don't know why."

This is the third straight Olympics the Czechs and Russians have met in the medal round. Russia beat the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals in 2002, while the Czechs won the gold in 1998 behind the stellar goaltending of Dominik Hasek.

"It was just good luck on the first puck of the game, and we never came back from that," said Czech forward Martin Straka, who came in leading the squad in scoring but had just one assist in Friday's loss. "I guess we ran out of gas. We were very tired with so many games, but everybody is in the same boat."

The presence of Hasek and Tomas Vokoun, who has been outstanding with the NHL's Nashville Predators, was supposed to give the Czechs an advantage in net. But Hasek got hurt in the first game, and Vokoun was inconsistent, forcing the Czech Republic to start third-stringer Milan Hnilicka against the Swedes.

Hnilicka, who beat Slovakia on Wednesday and had allowed only one goal in five periods in the tournament, gave up five goals on 20 shots and was pulled in the second period in favor of Vokoun.

"We didn't have our defense playing and they took us apart," Czech center Vaclav Prospal said. "That was the biggest reason why they scored seven goals."

Even when the lethargic Czechs got two goals in 45 seconds from Ales Hemsky and Prospal in the second period to pull within 5-3, Sweden quickly responded with a goal to end any possible threat.

"A bronze medal would be nice too, but it's a disappointment," Czech defenseman Tomas Kaberle said. "The Swedish players wanted it a little bit more than us tonight."

Jaromir Jagr, who leads the NHL with 40 goals and 88 points, managed just one assist.

This marks the fourth straight Olympics the Russians will leave without the gold medal, something they won six times in seven Olympics from 1964-1992.

Instead, Russia is left to play for the bronze for the second straight Olympics after claiming it in 2002.

Russia entered the semifinal on a five-game winning streak and riding the momentum of a 2-0 win over Canada in the quarterfinals. The Russians had scored 25 goals, most in the tournament, but they were shut out by a Finnish team that has allowed only five goals in seven games.

The Finns routinely frustrated Russia by focusing more on containing the Russians' speedy attack rather than scoring. A soon as Finland had secured a lead, it dropped three skaters back on defense and forced Russia to fire slapshots from the point, negating any advantage Alexander Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, Russia's top scoring threats, might have had.

"They didn't give us any opportunities to create any scoring chances," Russia and New York Islanders center Alexei Yashin said.

Sweden - which won the gold in 1994- and Finland - which has never won gold - play for the title Sunday.

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