VANCOUVER -- Given their respective ages, one of the legendary international performers in hockey history figured to be taking his final Olympic shifts Wednesday night at the University of British Columbia's Thunderbird Arena.
Teemu Selanne, the 40-year-old Finn who last week broke the Games' modern-day scoring record, gets to play another day -- against Team USA on Friday afternoon in the first of the two Olympic semifinal games. Jaromir Jagr, the 38-year-old Czech gold medalist from the '98 Nagano Games and five-time NHL scoring champ, goes home.
Finland won 2-0 on third-period goals by Janne Niskala and Valtteri Filppula, the latter an empty-netter. Miikka Kiprusoff made 31 saves for the shutout.
The Czechs were the victims of a terrible break that never could have happened in an NHL game.
Having dived to sweep the puck away from Niklas Hagman, Czech defenseman Pavel Kubina lost his helmet. Under IIHF rules, he either had to go directly to the bench or put his helmet back on to continue playing.
When Kubina went behind the net to retrieve his headgear, Hagman was left alone to screen Czech goaltender Tomas Vokoun. And he did just that, enabling Niskala's point shot to squirt through Vokoun's pads with 6:26 left in regulation for the game's first goal.
The two teams were so positionally sound, they looked like Stanley Cup finalists rather than hastily-assembled collections of NHL stars who had a few practices and three or four games to get to this quarterfinal. And since both prefer a safety-first game, that made their encounter more intriguing than electrifying.
And with both goaltenders doing what they do best -- Kiprusoff anticipating and making himself big in the net and Vokoun challenging and playing his angles -- one and done was the way the offensive thrusts went.
Jagr had a golden opportunity to break a scoreless tie when he found himself with rare time and skating room 5:20 into the third period. Cutting in off the right wing, Jagr uncorked a shot that produced a juicy rebound. But with Kiprusoff down and helpless, Jagr fanned on the put-back and returned to the Czech bench shaking his head in disgust.
The Czechs wanted to forget Tuesday night's game as soon as it was over. They had melted down badly late against an inferior opponent and were able to escape with their Olympic lives only because Edgars Masalskis, a Latvian goaltender who had performed heroically, flubbed an easy one midway through overtime.
“Obviously, we got a win that was important,” said David Krejci of the Boston Bruins, who scored that OT goal. “But the way we played (against Latvia) we can't play (against Finland). So I would prefer to forget about this game and move forward.”
Getting their minds to forget was one thing. Getting their bodies to pretend that they wouldn't be playing a third game in four nights against a well-rested opponent was quite another.
And the Czechs only made it harder on themselves by committing five minor penalties in the first period -- including a pair 11 seconds apart to give Finland a lengthy five-on-three power play.
But with point man Joni Pitkanen of the Carolina Hurricanes suspended for an injury causing hit from behind against Sweden's Patric Hornqvist, the Finnish power play failed miserably. And though killing all those penalties probably took a toll on forwards Tomas Plekanec and Krejci and defensemen Marek Zidlicky and Filip Kuba, it allowed top Czech forwards such as Jagr and Patrik Elias to pretty much take the first period off.
In Jagr's case, that might have been particularly beneficial.
Rocked by an open-ice hit from Russia's Alex Ovechkin in Sunday's group play finale, Jagr was able to last only one shift into the second period Tuesday night against Latvia. At that time, his team leading 2-0 and controlling play, it is believed that Jagr calculated that the bigger picture would be better served by him taking the rest of the night off to rest his aching neck in hopes of coming back stronger against the Finns.
The plan nearly backfired badly when the Czechs allowed two goals in the final 7:58 of regulation and were extended into overtime. But No. 68 and his mates survived to play another day.
And through two periods, at least, Jagr appeared to be functioning fairly well while the rest of the Czechs were back to the detail-oriented play from Tomas Vokoun's goal crease out that had them thinking gold during the tournament's first week.