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Lundqvist, Nieminen in Olympics' golden game

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
One of two Rangers players is coming home from the Torino Olympics with a gold medal next week. The only question is which one.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and winger Ville Nieminen were both winners in the semifinals on Friday, as Lundqvist's Swedish team routed the Czech Republic 7-3 and the flying Finns picked up their fifth shutout of these Olympics, beating Russia 4-0.

Both Rangers finalists are making their Olympic debuts in Torino, and are now guaranteed a medal. Six other Rangers, including four on the Czech team and two Russians, will play in the bronze-medal game on Saturday.

At least four, and perhaps up to six Olympic medals will be coming back to New York. Only the Detroit Red Wings, who have five players on the Swedish team, will come home with as many or more medals than the Rangers.

The Finland-Sweden finale should be a classic, as the Scandinavian countries have a longstanding rivalry, and both teams are at the top of their game. At 7-0 to date, Finland is looking to become the first unbeaten Olympic gold medalist since the 1984 Soviet squad. No Finnish team has ever won an Olympic hockey gold.

Sweden, meanwhile, is looking for its first gold since 1994 and its first medal since the NHL began sending players to the Olympics in 1998. The pressure will be on Lundqvist, who stopped 21 shots against the Czechs, to shut down an explosive Finnish offense that has outscored its opponents 27-5. Lundqvist has never lost to Finland in his previous international play, going 1-0-1 against the Finns.

For Rangers fans, the chance to see Lundqvist in the gold medal game is a possible preview of how he might perform in the Stanley Cup playoffs, when a goaltender's efforts are often the difference between victory and defeat.

Lundqvist held his own in the Swedes' semifinal against the Czechs, which turned out to be one of the tournament's more lopsided games.

Jaromir Jagr, Martin Rucinsky, Martin Straka and Marek Malik, looking to help their nation recapture the glory it found at Nagano in 1998, had a frustrating afternoon in Torino on Friday, as the Czechs were overwhelmed almost from the start.

It was a complete team effort for the Swedes, who got at least one point from 15 players. Fredrik Modin, P.J. Axelsson, Henrik Sedin, Christian Backman, Daniel Alfredsson, Jorgen Jonsson and Tomas Holmstrom had the Swedish goals.

Filip Kuba, Ales Hemsky and Vaclav Prospal scored for the Czechs, who found themselves in a 5-1 hole just eight minutes into the second period. That prompted the Czechs to pull starting goaltender Milan Hnilicka and replace him with Tomas Vokoun, the Nashville Predators goalie who had struggled earlier in this tournament.

The switch provided a temporary spark, but after cutting that lead to 5-3, the Czech comeback attempt fizzled.

Both Straka and Jar had an assist in the game. Straka now leads the Czechs in scoring with seven points, while Jagr is tied for second with six.

Balanced scoring was also the key to Finland's win over Russia, as the Finns got goals from Ville Peltonen, Toni Lydman, Saku Koivu and Olli Jokinen. Nieminen did not figure in the scoring, although he did get into some physical battles with Rangers teammate Darius Kasparaitis.

Kasparaitis, who already has Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals, and fellow Blueshirts defenseman Fedor Tyutin will look to finish third on Saturday in a bronze-medal game involving six Rangers players.
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