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Gaborik scores as Slovaks top Swedes

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
A disappointed Henrik Lundqvist leaves the ice after his Swedish team was eliminated from the Olympics by Slovakia on Wednesday night in Vancouver. Lundqvist played in only three games at the Olympics, and the light workload there should prove beneficial as he heads into the final 20 games of the Rangers' regular season.


Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who helped lead Sweden to a gold medal four years ago, is coming home from the Olympics again -- only this time it won't be with a medal.

Late Wednesday night in Vancouver, Lundqvist and his Swedish teammates were upset by a Slovakia squad that features Lundqvist's fellow Blueshirt Marian Gaborik. The Slovaks, who never trailed after taking a 1-0 lead on a Gaborik power-play goal early in the second period, held on for a 4-3 win and a somewhat improbable berth in the tournament semifinals.

The four goals allowed Wednesday were a tough way for Lundqvist to end what had been a brilliant follow-up to his performance in the 2006 Olympics at Torino, Italy. For nearly 150 minutes at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, no opposing player had been able to put a shot past him.

Indeed, heading into the quarterfinal game against the Slovaks at Canada Hockey Place, Lundqvist, who had picked up back-to-back preliminary-round shutouts against Germany and Finland, had been impenetrable. But his streak had to end sometime, and to Blueshirts fans -- and perhaps even Lundqvist himself -- it's hardly a surprise thatGaborik was the one to do it.

Gaborik scored on a power play at 7:34 of the second period, ending Lundqvist's streak and setting the tone for a tremendous win by Slovakia.

As the teams shook hands at the end of the game, Lundqvist and Gaborik gave each other a warm hug. Both men were smiling, and it was clear their friendship as Blueshirts transcended even what was taking place around them.

The real hero for the Slovaks might have been goaltender Jaroslav Halak of the Montreal Canadiens. Halak made 26 saves for the win on a night when the Swedes outshot the Slovaks by a wide 29-14 margin. Slovakia made the most of its chances against Lundqvist, scoring on three of four shots in the second period and one of three in the third.

Gaborik became the fourth Rangers player to reach the semifinals, joining Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan of Team USA, and Olli Jokinen of Team Finland. Making it to the gold-medal game will be a tremendous challenge for Slovakia, as it must find a way to beat a Team Canada squad that routed Russia 7-3 in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

Friday's other semifinal pits Team USA, the No. 1 seed, against Finland for the right to face the Canada-Slovakia winner in the gold-medal game on Sunday. Friday's losing teams will play for bronze on Saturday night.

On Wednesday, Gaborik saw 19:02 of ice time to rank fourth among Slovak forwards. He scored on one of his two shots on goal and continues to lead the entire tournament with 27 shots in five games.

Lundqvist's stats were equally impressive up until Wednesday night's final 40 minutes. Dating back to the gold medal game vs. Finland at Torino, Lundqvist had managed to set a modern-day Olympic record with a shutout streak of 172:34. Once the streak ended, courtesy of Gaborik, Slovakia needed only 37 more seconds to make it a 2-0 game and set off a wild second period in which the teams combined for five goals.

Rangers scoring leader Marian Gaborik gets a hug from 6-foot-9 Slovak teammate Zdeno Chara after getting his team' on the board with a power-play goal Wednesday.
Gaborik notched the breakthrough goal after Sweden had taken a penalty for having too many men on the ice at 6:19 of the second. Just 75 seconds after the bench minor, Gaborik had his third goal of the 2010 Olympics.

The whole play developed after Gaborik had just missed on a shot from slot that went wide right. Lundqvist subsequently lost his stick as the Slovak pressure continued, and defenseman Henrik Tallinder handed his stick to the goalie. That left Lundqvist playing net with a teammate's stick and Tallinder forced to kill a penalty with no stick at all. As the power play continued, Marian Hossa found Gaborik alone in the right circle and the Rangers sniper ripped a drive past Lundqvist with a needle-threading shot just inside the right post.

Slovak teammates, including 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara jumped on Gaborik in celebration of the goal, which set off another quick score.

Almost immediately after Gaborik's goal, Slovakia sprang out of the neutral zone with a 2-on-1 rush. Defenseman Andrej Sekera of the Buffalo Sabres came down the middle with Richard Zednik handling the puck to his right. Zednik sent a perfect centering pass to the oncoming Sekera, who banged a shot past Lundqvist for a stunning 2-0 lead over the defending Olympic gold medalists at the 8:11 mark.

Sweden was hardly fazed by the Slovak scoring outburst, as the Swedes would respond with their own two-goal spurt in another 37-second stretch to tie the game.

Patric Hornqvist of the Nashville Predators cut Slovakia's lead to 2-1 when he backhanded a perfect pass from Peter Forsberg past Jaroslav Halak at 13:49. Forsberg had fed Hornqvist from behind the net shortly after the Swedes had gained control of the puck when it took a strange bounce off the glass in Slovakia's zone.

Sweden quickly tied the game at 14:26 of the second period. This time, Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings drove the puck down to the base of the right faceoff circle and backhanded a centering pass to Forsberg. The puck never reached the Swedish star, however, as it instead hit Slovak defenseman Milan Jurcina's shin and bounced into the net.

Just when it looked like Sweden would take control of the game, the Slovaks took full advantage of a Tobias Enstrom tripping penalty, called at 18:16 of the second period after Slovakia applied pressure during nearly 30 seconds of delayed-call time.

Pavol Demitra scored the go-ahead goal, giving Slovakia a 3-2 lead at 19:12 of the second. Gaborik was out on the ice with the power play unit, working the puck along the right-wing boards with Marian Hossa, who sent it back to Chara at the right point. Chara spotted Demitra walking in from the left point to the top of the left circle and got him the puck in time for a blast into the top right corner of the Swedish net, a laser that barely gave Lundqvist a chance to react.

Slovakia stretched its lead to what appeared to be a commanding 4-2 advantage at 9:01 of the third, just a few minutes after killing off a roughing penalty to Gaborik.

Once again it was Demitra playing a huge role in the goal, as he took off leading a 2-on-1 rush up the ice out of the neutral zone, skated toward the right circle and fed a perfect cross-ice pass to Marian Hossa. Lundqvist dove to make a tough save on Hossa's shot, but Tomas Kopecky, Hossa's teammate with the Chicago Blackhawks, was following up the play and in perfect position to knock in the rebound for the surprising 4-2 lead.

Sweden was not going to go quietly, however. Just 38 seconds after the Kopecky goal, Swedish star Daniel Alfredsson trimmed the lead down to 4-3 when he scored off a pass from Nicklas Backstrom, who had picked up the puck behind the net to Halak's left and found Alfredsson alone between the circles at the 9:39 mark.

But it was too little, too late for the Swedes, who became the fourth consecutive Olympic gold medalist to exit the Games before the tournament semifinals.
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