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There's no question that Slovakia is one of the darkhorse medal candidates at the Vancouver Olympics, but with a player like Rangers scoring leader Marian Gaborik
on their roster, anything is possible for the Slovaks.
Gaborik was brilliant late Tuesday night at Canada Hockey Place, picking up a goal and an assist in Slovakia's 4-3 qualifying-round win over a determined Norwegian team that fought hard to the bitter end.
|Rangers forward Marian Gaborik, who was the best offensive player on the ice for Slovakia on Tuesday night, powers past Norway's Jonas Holos. Gaborik had a goal and assist in the first period. |
With their victory, the Slovaks, who outshot Norway 40-19,advanced to a quarterfinal game against Team Sweden.
Wednesday night's Slovakia-Sweden game will pit the Rangers' two biggest stars this season -- Gaborik and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
-- one another each other in a game that starts at midnight ET (9 p.m. in Vancouver) at Canada Hockey Place.
Just two weeks ago, Gaborik cut his knee on Lundqvist's skate during a Rangers practice, but over the course of the Olympics, he has made a full recovery from that injury, as his performance on Tuesday indicated.
After Gaborik was stopped by Norwegian goalie Pal Grotnes on two early scoring chances, the game took a scary turn when Norway's Ole-Kristian Tollefsen of the Detroit Red Wings organization delivered a head shot to Slovak forward Lubos Bartecko at the Slovakia blue line at 6:10 of the first. The hit knocked Bartecko's helmet off, and his head bled profusely after hitting the ice. Bartecko was removed on a stretcher, and Tollefsen was ejected from the game.
Tollefsen's game misconduct came with a five-minute major penalty, and Gaborik and Team Slovakia took full advantage, scoring a pair of power-play goals.
Gaborik came out on a strong power-play unit with Michal Handzus, Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara and Pavol Demitra. That group wasted little time making it a 1-0 game when Gaborik set up a goal by Handzus at 7:03.
The scoring play started when Hossa fed a pass to Gaborik at the top of the right faceoff circle. Gaborik blasted a slapper at Grotnes, who made the initial save, but had no chance on the rebound shot by Handzus, who was crashing the net.
With his team still on the power play because of the major penalty, Gaborik made it a 2-0 game just under three minutes after Handzus' goal with a brilliant redirection of a shot from Demitra.
Stationed just outside the crease to Grotnes' left, Gaborik picked up his first goal of the game -- and second of these Olympics -- when he alertly redirected Demitra's low shot from the left point past Grotnes at 9:48 of the first.
Gaborik continued to enjoy scoring chances in the first period. Grotnes stopped him point blank from the slot with a right-pad save at 16:10, and Norway responded by getting its first goal of the game from Mats Zuccarello
Aasen at 18:06. Zuccarello Aasen beat Slovak goaltender Jaroslav Halak of the Montreal Canadiens with a perfectly placed bullet from the right circle.
The Rangers' top scorer, who has 35 goals for the Blueshirts with 20 games remaining in the 2009-10 season, also helped his team by drawing a holding penalty against Mats Trygg at 18:29. That penalty led to the third Slovak goal, as just 23 seconds after Trygg went off, Richard Zednik converted the power play off a pass from Jozef Stumpel for a 3-1 lead.
Playing much of the period on a line with former NHL players Stumpel and Ziggy Palffy, Gaborik finished the first period with a remarkable six shots on goal in 4:59 of ice time and had a game-high total of nine for the night. Through four games, he ranks among the Olympic leaders in total shots with 25.
He continued to apply pressure in the second period, adding two more shots in 5:07 of ice time.
He had a chance with five minutes remaining as he applied pressure and moved around behind the net to draw Grotnes out of position, but there was no one to pass to when he came out the other side.
Shortly after that opportunity, the Slovaks got a power play chance when Norwegian captain Tommy Jakobsen went off for holding at 16:29 of the second. During the power play, Gaborik blew past the defense an bore down into the slot for a quick drive that Grotnes managed to stop.
While Gaborik was on top of his game, the spirited Norwegians were doing everything they could to pull off an upset. By the end of the second period, they had set the stage for a dramatic final 20 minutes by scoring twice to make it 3-3.
Norway cut the lead to 3-2 on a delayed penalty call when Tore Vikingstad scored amid some pressure when he snuck into the area just to Halak's left at 7:27 of the second.
The Norwegians remarkably tied the game at 3-3 with one second left in the middle period when Anders Bastiansen rifled a wrister from the right circle after three Norwegians broke into the zone together.
In the third period, however, the talent-laden Slovaks found a way to win when Miroslav Satan of the Boston Bruins pulled in Lubomir Visnovsky's centering pass from the right corner and sent it into the net at 8:41 for his first goal of the 2010 Olympics and a 4-3 lead for Slovakia.
Gaborik also had a chance to score at the 13:00 mark of the third, but after creating his own opportunity in the Norway zone, his bad-angle shot from the base of the left circle was denied by Grotnes, who knocked it away from just inside the near post.
Gaborik saw 6:06 of ice time in the third period to finish with a total of 16:12.
In other games on Tuesday evening, Canada bounced back from its loss to Team USA by routing Germany 8-2, and David Kreci's overtime goal lifted the Czech Republic over Latvia 3-2. The Canadians advanced to a quarterfinal game against Russia, while the Czechs will face Finland in the final eight on Thursday.
The Czech Republic played much of its game without former Rangers star Jaromir Jagr, who came out due to an injury just a few minutes into the opening period.
In the day's first game, Switzerland beat Belarus 3-2 in an overtime shootout to advance to a quarterfinal matchup against Team USA at 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks made the final shootout save against Belarus' Sergei Kostitsyn of the Montreal Canadiens to secure the victory. Thomas Deruns and Romano Lemm scored shootout goals for Switzerland.
Andres Ambuhl, a Rangers prospect who plays for the Hartford Wolf Pack, saw 17:30 of ice time on his team's third line. Ambuhl ranked fourth among Swiss forwards in ice time and had three shots on goal, with two coming in the first period.