Three Nashville Predators commanded the international spotlight Saturday, as each played a vital role in securing Olympic bronze for their Czech Republic homeland with a 3-0 victory over Russia in the Olympic men's ice hockey tournament in Torino, Italy. Forward Martin Erat and goaltender Tomas Vokoun offered their best performances of the 12-day tournament in the Czech team's final game, and Marek Zidlicky tallied his fourth goal in seven games to tie Sweden's Niklas Lidstrom as the competition's highest scoring defenseman. Predators blueliner Danny Markov, who won a bronze medal with Russia in 2002, came up just short of pairing it with a second as his team finished fourth.
One Predator still has a shot at a gold medal. Defenseman Kimmo Timonen and his Finland club will square off against Sweden Sunday for the ultimate international prize, but are guaranteed at least a silver medal. That means four of Nashville's five representatives at the Games will return from Italy with Olympic hardware.
In Saturday's game, Erat opened the scoring 4:48 into the contest. The goal--his first point of the tournament--was the result of a wrist shot from the left circle that beat Russian goaltender Evgeni Nabokov high over the shoulder. Zidlicky then extended the lead to 2-0 with a power-play goal 6:36 into the second period. As his Czech club skated with a five-minute manpower advantage following a boarding major and game misconduct to Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk, Zidlicky lit the lamp with a one-timed blast of a Jaromir Jagr pass.
The Czechs put themselves in a few precarious situations by committing a number of penalties--including two minors whistled on Zidlicky--but Vokoun looked strong and comfortable in goal for his homeland, making important saves on Pavel Datsyuk and a Maxim Afinogenov wraparound in the final minutes of play. He stopped all 28 shots he faced in the game, including 12 in the third period as the Russians summoned more offensive pressure in an effort to tie the game.
As the seconds wound down and Nabokov sat on the Russian bench in favor of an extra attacker, Erat and teammate Martin Straka played an unselfish game of catch on a rush that resulted in a game-sealing empty-net score for Straka and an assist for Erat.
The Predators threesome was all smiles during the award ceremony that followed the game, as each received a bronze medal to cap his Olympic debut.
Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Results
BRONZE MEDAL GAME
Czech Republic 3, Russia 0
Remaining Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Schedule
Sunday, February 26
GOLD MEDAL GAME
Finland vs. Sweden
NBC, 7 a.m. CT
For Olympics broadcast channel information for your area: www.nbcolympics.com/tv