Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has already become a fan favorite in Madison Square Garden, but on Sunday at the Olympics, he was the major obstacle in Team USA's quest for a berth in the medal round.
Lundqvist showed the world the level of talent he has displayed all season at MSG, stifling the Americans with 24 saves in a 2-1 Swedish win at Torino Espozisioni. In the process, he won a goaltending duel with New York Islanders netminder Rick DiPietro, the starter for Team USA.
The Sweden-USA game was perhaps the biggest game on Day 4 of the Olympic hockey tournament as teams are fighting for the remaining medal-round berths.
In another key matchup, the Ranger-filled Czech team cruised past Italy 4-1 to clinch the final Group A berth in the quarterfinals. NHL scoring leader Jaromir Jagr returned to action for the Czechs, less than 24 hours after being sent head-first into the boards by Jarkko Ruutu during a loss to the Finns on Saturday.
Despite the scary nature of the head injury, which left him bleeding on the ice for several minutes, Jagr did not suffer a concussion. Wearing a more protective helmet on Sunday, Jagr wasted little time getting his name onto the scoresheet, as he and Rangers teammate Martin Straka assisted on a first-period goal that put the Czechs up 2-0. It was the first of Straka's three assists in the game.
"I don't feel too good, but I felt I had to play in this game," Jagr told NBC broadcaster Peter McNab after the first period.
Earlier in the day, two Rangers defensemen had a chance to enjoy a cakewalk with the Russian team as it clinched a spot in the medal round. Darius Kasparaitis and Fedor Tyutin are going to the quarterfinals Wednesday, thanks to a 9-2 win over Latvia in the most lopsided game of the tournament so far.
Atlanta Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk tallied four goals for the Russians in the highest-scoring performance of any player in the 2006 Olympics. Russia is now 3-1 in the round-robin portion of the tournament.
Sunday was also a landmark day for the Swiss team, which tied Germany 2-2 to claim a spot in the medal-round quarterfinals. Colorado Avalanche goaltender David Aebischer made 26 saves for Switzerland, which is 2-1-1 with upset wins over the Czech Republic and Canada.
In other games involving Rangers, Marcel Hossa and his Slovakian teammates became the first 4-0 team in the preliminary round with a 2-1 win over Kazakhstan. Hossa's older brother, Marian, scored the game-winner at 8:09 of the third period. Slovakia had already clinched a medal-round berth by beating Team USA on Saturday.
In Sunday's final game, Rangers winger Ville Nieminen picked up his first point of the tournament with an assist on Niko Kapanen's first-period goal as the Finns toppled Canada 2-0.
Finland, which has three shutouts in the tournament, is now 4-0 in Group A and could finish with a perfect record by beating Germany on Tuesday. As the No. 1 team in Group A, Finland's quarterfinal match would come against Group B's fourth seed, which is expected to be Team USA. Despite the loss that dropped them to 2-2 in the tournament, Canada is also assured a trip to the medal round.