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Czechs push Slovakia to World brink

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
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Rangers forward Marian Gaborik and his Slovak teammates are facing a potentially unpleasant finish to the IIHF World Championship tournament in their home nation after losing their qualification-round opener to the Czech Republic on Friday at Bratislava.

The Slovaks, who fell 3-2 to the Czech Republic due largely to a virtuoso performance by New Jersey Devils forward Patrik Elias, now risk missing a spot in the quarterfinals. Slovakia had loaded its team with NHL stars, including Gaborik, in the effort to win the World gold at home, but are now in danger of failing to win any medal.

To get through to the quarterfinals, the Slovaks now must win both of their remaining games against Finland and Denmark in regulation and hope for the Finns to lose to Russia. It's a plausible scenario, but Slovakia, coached by former Rangers goaltender Glen Hanlon, must get help from the Russians in order to make it happen.

Rangers forward Marian Gaborik and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky of the Anaheim Ducks show their obvious disappointment after the Slovaks fell to the Czech Republic 3-2 on Friday night at Bratislava.
On Friday, Gaborik led all Slovak forwards with 19:04 of ice-time, including 8:52 in the third period alone, as the host nation attempted to come back from a two-goal deficit. Skating on a new line with Richard Zednik and Pavol Demitra, Gaborik ended the game with three shots on goal, but was unable to beat Czech netminder Ondrej Pavelec of the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Czech team, which features former Rangers star Jaromir Jagr, got a big performance from Elias, who scored a goal and had two assists. With the teams tied 1-1 after two periods, Elias came through with an early third-period assist and then added the eventual winning goal to put the game all but out of reach for Slovakia at 3-1.

Outshot 37-22 by the Czech Republic, Slovakia relied heavily on a great netminding effort from St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 34 shots in defeat. Had it not been for Halak, the Czechs would have likely won in a rout.

The Czechs got the game's first goal on a power play late in the first period when Marek Zidlicky scored on a blast from just inside the blue line directly across from Halak at 17:48. Zidlicky took a pass from Elias, who was stationed along the left boards, and blasted a drive through traffic and past the Slovak goalie.

Jan Marek, a former Rangers draft pick whose rights were traded to Los Angeles as part of the 2007 deal that brought Sean Avery to New York, had the other assist on Zidlicky's goal.

The Slovaks tied the game 1-1 on a goal by Ladislav Nagy at 2:54 of the second period. Nagy scored on a long, high drive through traffic from just outside the top of the left faceoff circle. Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and forward Jozef Stumpel picked up the assists on the tying goal, which sailed over Pavelec's left shoulder.

Slovakia then missed a golden opportunity to take the lead when Miroslav Satan fanned on a 2-on-1 pass from Nagy with 9:30 left in second period. Halak was then forced to make a huge saves on Tomas Plekanec from just outside crease with roughly two minutes remaining. Plekanec's got under Halak but trickled across the crease in front of the goal line.

The Czechs wasted little time taking a 2-1 lead early in the third period, when Martin Havlat scored just 66 seconds into the period. Coming out of a faceoff in the Slovak zone, Havlat took a pass from Elias and shot the puck from the far side of the left circle through Milan Michalek's screen and past Halak. It was ruled that Michalek had not touched the puck, and the goal was awarded to Havlat.

Elias then made it 3-1 just over three minutes later, scoring on the rebound of a long shot by Havlat from just inside the blue line. Fighting his way through a defenseman in front of the net, Elias slid the puck past Halak after it had bounced off of Michalek's skate. Elias' goal, at 4:28 of the third, was his third point of the game and put the Slovaks in a big hole.

Slovakia managed to cut the lead to 3-2 when Tomas Surovy scored at 17:28 of the third. Surovy took a pass from Branko Radivojevic, who was behind the Czech net, and shot it through traffic past Pavelec to make it a one-goal game with 2:32 to go, but that was as close as it would get.

As the Slovaks pressed for a tying goal, Gaborik was out on the ice for the entire final two minutes.

Hanlon called timeout with 1:19 to go and lifted Halak in favor of a sixth attacker. With less than 30 seconds to go, Gaborik sprang Lubomir Visnovsky for a rush from the neutral zone, but Pavelec managed to stop Visnovsky's drive, and the Czechs called timeout with a faceoff in their zone and only 22 seconds remaining. The Slovaks then got another draw in the Czech zone with just over 10 seconds left, but they were unable to get the tying goal and found themselves on the brink of elimination from medal contention.
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