USA pays the penalty
Czech power play books SF spot
A feisty second period at Chizhovka Arena swung this game firmly in the Czechs' favour with clinical special teams and two big refereeing calls giving both sets of fans plenty to discuss. But the one unarguable fact was that the Czechs took full advantage of their chances, enabling them to grab a 4-3 win and end the hopes of a youthful American team in the last eight.
But there was still a breathless finish to the game as Tyler Johnson scored twice in 13 seconds as the 59th minute melted into the 60th, setting up 57 nerve-jangling seconds for the Czechs to hold on to a suddenly slender 4-3 advantage.
That left Johnson both proud and frustrated. "I think we did as well as we could have done in the last minute there, getting those two goals," he said. "We had some chances and we had to bury one. I think that shows a lot of character, but I wish it had come a little sooner.
"In the end, it was a good game. Those five or seven minutes, whatever it was, when we were in penalty trouble and they got those quick goals, that’s what really killed us in the end."
The Americans kept the puck in the Czech zone for the final minute and peppered Alexander Salak's net with shots, but ran out of time as a diagonal drive from Craig Smith rebounded towards Johnson as he loitered with intent around the slot.
Defeated USA coach Peter Laviolette was proud of his team's effort, despite the defeat.
"At times in life you have a choice of two roads, and in adversity they chose the right one today," he said. "We found ourselves in trouble but we kept fighting and pushing the game in the third and never gave up.Continue reading
"I'm disappointed that our tournament stops here, but I'm proud of the way we played."
Despite that frantic finish the outcome of the game was ultimately decided around the midway point. The teams were tied at 1-1 when USA captain Justin Abdelkader took a 5+20 for charging Vladimir Sobotka after the Czech forward had unleashed a shot into Tim Thomas' near post. The 27-year-old vigourously queried the call, but after catching his opponent late with his shoulder the officials had little other alternative.
"The turning point was obviouly when their captain took the penalty and we were able to score two goals," said Czech head coach Vladimir Ruzicka. "After that we focused on our neutral zone trap and most of the time we did that OK."
It took just 10 seconds for the Czechs to score on the power play. Jaromir Jagr found Jiri Novotny in the slot and after his shot was blocked Tomas Hertl eagerly swept home the rebound.
There was more debate 20 seconds after that, and this time the Czech fans were aggrieved after Roman Cervenka had a goal chalked off by the video goal judge. The call from the stadium announcer was that the forward had kicked the puck past Thomas, while the replay seemed to suggest that the issue was more about whether the puck had completely crossed the line.
Cervenka acted quickly to put that controversy to bed, getting an undisputed score on 8:06 of the middle frame. Thomas made the initial save from Jan Kolar but nobody was ready to deal with the rebound and the Czechs' SKA St. Petersburg forward had a simple task to pouch his second marker of the tournament.
Team USA came close to reducing the arrears when Tommy Wingels rattled the frame of Salak's goal, but as both sides continued to trade penalties the Czechs profited once again.
Brock Nelson returned to the sin-bin shortly after completing a misconduct penalty, and while he was there he witnessed a sight familar to followers of Lev Prague's KHL play-off run. Ondrej Nemec let rip with a slapper from the blue line and watched it fly into the net while Jiri Novotny supplied the traffic in front of the net.
Three unanswered Czech goals in the second period - all of them on the power play - seemed to have effectively ended the game as a contest, reversing the outcome of the teams' last encounter at the same stage of the Sochi Olympics.
But the USA refused to give up, and after spending much of the third period knocking at Salak's door that quickfire Johnson double almost rewrote the narrative at the last.
"It wasn't funny in the last minute," said a relieved Nemec. "We know that every time when you play the Americans or Canadians they will dump the puck in and go for it. It's always the same, but we're in the semi-final."
Ultimately the Americans were put to the sword by an opposing power play; ironic, considering that throughout the group stage Laviolette's special teams had prospered whenever the USA had a man advantage. And in the opening session that potent power play struck again, punishing the Czechs for a fairly needless cross-check by Sobotka by scoring in the seventh minute. Nelson claimed the goal, redirecting Peter Mueller's slap shot from the blue line to take the American PP to 11 from 37 and open the scoring in the game.
But a typical U.S. performance involves plenty of goals being traded: while only Russia and Canada scored more in the group stage, the defensive record was weaker than any other team in the quarter-finals. It took less than three minutes for the Czechs to tie it up, aided by some more uncertain goaltending from Thomas. The veteran stopper blocked Jan Kovar's initial shot but as he floundered on his crease Tomas Rolinek was able to bundle the puck into the net to claim his first goal of the competition.
The next big chance went to the Americans, but turned into something of comedy of errors. A Czech power play came undone as Petr Zamorsky coughed up the puck in centre ice, but Nelson and Tyler Johnson somehow contrived to botch their 2-on-0 breakaway, failing to get a shot on Salak. The Czechs' second-period power plays were far more dangerous, and an American revival in the third could not seriously endanger the European team's commanding advantage until it was too late.
True, Salak had to be alert to keep another dangerous power play at bay midway through the session, spreading his pads to deny Jimmy Hayes and Smith in quick succession, but there were also big chances on Thomas' net - none more so than when Jiri Sekac stole the puck and fed Cervenka for a clear shot from close range which whistled just wide of goal. The Americans finally cut the deficit late on, but could not complete an improbable fightback before the hooter sounded.