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Czech it out! Four Rangers win Olympic bronze

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Four Czech members of the New York Rangers are coming back to the Big Apple with Olympic medals around their necks, after the Czech Republic beat Russia 3-0 in Saturday's bronze-medal game at Palasport Olimpico in Torino, Italy.

With six Rangers in action, Saturday's third-place game featured more Blueshirts players than any previous matchup at the Torino Games.

Jaromir Jagr, Martin Rucinsky, Martin Straka and Marek Malik claimed their medals Saturday, while Russian NHL teammates Darius Kasparaitis and Fedor Tyutin had to settle for fourth.

The Czech victory ensured that the Rangers players will return to North America with more medals than any other team except Detroit. Detroit, which has five Swedish players going for gold on Sunday, was represented in the Czech lineup by Robert Lang.

The Rangers will pick up their last two medals on Sunday after Finland faces Sweden in the gold-medal game. Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start for the Swedes, while Ville Nieminen will be playing for Finland. Both players are looking for their first Olympic medals.

Saturday belonged to the Czech Republic, and on a team with such a dominant Rangers presence, it was only fitting that the Czechs' final goal -- an empty netter -- was scored by Straka in the closing seconds.

Martin Erat and Marek Zidlicky had the other Czech goals. Erat scored the game-winner early in the first, and Zidlicky's power-play goal at 6:36 of the second period was assisted by the Jagr.

Hampered by groin problems, Jagr left the ice for precautionary reasons with roughly four minutes remaining in the second period and did not return to action. With the Czechs comfortably ahead, Jagr finished the game in uniform on the Czech bench and took part in the postgame medal ceremony.

It was a big day for the Czech members of the Nashville Predators, too, as Erat and Zidlicky both scored, and goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who replaced Milan Hnilicka in the semifinals, picked up the shutout against Russia's Evgeni Nabokov.

The Czechs claimed their first Olympic medal since winning gold at Nagano in 1998. Jagr, Rucinsky and Straka were all members of that Czech team. Malik, playing in his first Olympics, won the first medal of his international hockey career on Saturday.

Jagr had been playing on a line with Straka and Lang, but joined Rucinsky and Straka on an all-Rangers line until exiting the game on Saturday. Earlier in the season, the trio skated together for the Blueshirts.

Despite the loss, Kasparaitis, who was playing in his fourth Olympics, achieved a major milestone. Saturday's game was his 28th Olympic appearance -- the most ever by a member of a Soviet or Russian national team. In four trips to the Olympics, Kasparaitis has finished first, second, third and fourth.

Tyutin, playing in his first Olympics but third major international tournament, is going home without a medal for the first time in his career. He won gold at the World Junior Championships in both 2002 and 2003.
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