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Familiar faces square off in men's hockey semifinal matchup between Sweden, Czech Republic

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Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Martin Rucinsky and Henrik Lundqvist are all teammates with the NHL's New York Rangers.

But when they take the ice on Friday, they'll be on opposite sides as the Czech Republic and Sweden meet in an Olympic semifinal matchup.

Lundqvist, a rookie goalie who has led the surprising Rangers to the top of the Atlantic Division, stopped 27 shots as the Swedes beat Switzerland 6-2 in Wednesday's quarterfinals.

Expected to be a gold-medal contender, the Czechs struggled in group play before rebounding to beat their former countrymen Slovakia 3-1 in another quarterfinal. Third-string goalie Milan Hnilicka made 20 saves while the Czechs got goals from Milan Hejduk, Rucinsky and an empty-netter from Straka.

Jagr, Rucinsky and Straka are the top scoring threats for the Rangers and the Czech Republic. Straka leads the Czechs with six points, while Jagr is second with five and Rucinsky is tied for third with four.

Jagr, who leads the NHL with 40 goals and 88 points, tried to downplay the meeting with his NHL teammate Lundqvist, who is 25-7-6 with a 2.09 goals-against average with the Rangers.

"It doesn't matter. We just have to face Sweden," Jagr said. "I know him, and he's a big part of our hockey club and it's going to be a big challenge."

Sweden has already accomplished one big challenge by getting past the quarterfinal round.

With the victory over Switzerland, the Swedes erased memories of 2002, when they were upset by Belarus in the quarterfinals. Sweden also lost in the quarters in 1998.

"We had some pressure on us, and I thought we responded," Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "It's good to get past this hurdle."

Mats Sundin had two goals and Daniel Alfredsson had three assists Wednesday for Sweden, which backed up coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson's claim that the Swedes would be better off playing Switzerland rather than one of the traditional hockey powers.

"We have only one goal," said Alfredsson, who leads the team with eight points, "and that's gold. We don't care who we meet in the semifinals."

Sweden will have to play the rest of the tournament without defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who suffered a broken rib when he crashed into the boards during Wednesday's victory. His roster spot has been taken by Detroit's Niklas Kronwall, who has played only three NHL games this season.

The Czech Republic, whose speed and talent are among the best in the world, finally played a complete game in beating Slovakia, which had gone 5-0 in group play.

"At the beginning of the tournament, we weren't playing as a team," Rucinsky said. "We weren't satisfied, but just before the Canada game, we sat down and talked about just going out and playing our game. Since then, we've been building momentum, and it carried over."

Hnilicka, who played well at the end of the 3-2 loss to the Canadians in the finale of group play, was a surprise starter in place of Tomas Vokoun, who has been inconsistent replacing the injured Dominik Hasek.

"I was a little bit surprised to get the start but I didn't think about it much," said Hnilicka, who led the Czechs to World Championships in 1999 and 2001. "Last night I just got ready. I wanted to make sure I wouldn't get too nervous. I wanted to do my best."

Sweden beat the Czech Republic in group play in 2002, but the countries haven't met in a medal-round game since 1992, when the former Czechoslovakia beat Sweden 3-1 in the quarterfinals.

With a victory Friday, Sweden would assure itself of a medal for the first time since it won gold in 1994.

The Czechs, the reigning world champs, won gold in 1998 with Hasek in net, but lost in the quarterfinals to Russia in 2002.

Russia and Finland meet in the other semifinal Friday.

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