For all the skill and experience found on the rosters of both SLOVAKIA and SWEDEN, not to mention ice hockey history between the two nations involved, it was only appropriate that the very last quarterfinal match at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver should feature a lively and entertaining affair settled by a solitary score.
Following a scoreless and evenly-played first period, the Slovaks drew first blood after the defending Olympic champions took a penalty for too many players seven and a half minutes into the second session.
Capitalizing on the power play, Slovakia’s Chicago Black Hawks star MARIAN HOSSA handed MARIAN GABORIK a perfect, cross-ice pass for the New York Rangers star to one-time past his National Hockey League teammate, HENRIK LUNDQVIST, in the Swedish goal.
Less than a minute later, the Slovaks surprisingly scored yet again.
Intercepting a pass in his own defensive zone, Slovakia’s aging ZIGMUND PALFFY of HK 36 Skalica sent Torpedo Yaroslavl’s RICHARD ZEDNIK away on a rush. Palffy paid the price and received a devastating hit, but the former NHL scoring star’s quick pass had been huge. The NHL veteran Zednik sped into the Swedish zone down the right, drew the lone defender and cut the puck across for defenseman ANDREJ SEKERA of the Buffalo Sabres to shoot past Lundqvist.
Sweden held a wide 12-4 lead in shots-on-goal for the second period and would respond, however, with the leadership of a veteran.
The 37-year-old, two-time Olympic gold medalist PETER FORSBERG of Mo Do Ornskoldsvik, with a backhand flip from behind the goal, found PATRIC HORNQVIST of the Nashville Preadators in front. With a backhand of his own past Slovak goaltender JAROSLAV HALAK of the Montreal Canadiens, the 22-year-old Hornqvist halfed Slovakia’s lead.
Almost immediately thereafter, with Forsberg steaming for the net, Detroit Red Wings star HENRIK ZETTERBERG had his centering pass deflect off Slovak defenseman MILAN JURCINA in front past Halak to pull Sweden level at 2-2 with five and a half minutes remaining until the second intermission.
Unfortunately for Sweden, Atlanta Thrashers defenseman TOBIAS ENSTROM took a penalty for tripping with less than two minutes to go and Slovakia promptly scored. PAVOL DEMITRA of the Olympic host city’s Vancouver Canucks, who produced the shootout winner for Slovakia versus Russia earlier in the tournament, struck again. The 35-year-old wing, who has missed most of this NHL season due to injury, cannoned a slapshot from the top of the left face-off circle over Lundqvist’s shoulder to send Slovakia back in front just before the break.
Nine minutes into the final frame, Slovakia again went up by two thanks to a goal from the unlikely TOMAS KOPECKY of the Chicago Black Hawks. Demitra and Marian Hossa broke into the zone on a two-one-one break; Kopecky slid his Chicago teammate’s rebound past the prone Lundqvist for his first goal at the Vancouver Games. Kopecky has four goals in 58 NHL games for the Black Hawks this winter.
Veteran DANIEL ALFREDSSON of the Ottawa Senators managed to draw the Swedes within one less than a minute later to set the stage for a tense and dramatic finish as Sweden pressed their attack. Indeed, the Swedes posted a lopsided 29-14 shots-on-goal total for the contest. But, Halak and the Slovaks were able to hang on for the victory and a place in the semifinals at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Slovakia, who failed to get past the preliminary stage at both the 1998 Nagano Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, have reached the medal round for the very first time in Vancouver.
SLOVAKIA 4 – SWEDEN 3
Shots-on-goal : Sweden 29 – Slovakia 14
SVK goals : Gaborik, Sekera, Demitra, Kopecky
SWE goals : Hornqvist, Zetterberg, Alfredsson
Slovak defenseman MILAN JURCINA (68) deposits Swedish forward SAMUEL PAHLSSON into Sweden’s bench as Pahlsson’s teammates scramble to protect themselves. Jurcina, who started the current 2009-10 season with the Washington Capitals, and Pahlsson are teammates with the Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Slovakia defender ANDREJ MESZAROS (14) of the Tampa Lightning bops Sweden forward HENRIK ZETTERBERG (40) of the Detroit Red Wings at the Slovak bench in the Olympic quarterfinal match at Canada Hockey Place. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
to be continued…