Olympics: U.S. tops Czechs, sets up showdown with Canada
Sochi, Russia • Zach Parise and Ryan Suter arrived late to the scoring party, but the Minnesota Wild stars brought their own points Wednesday as the revelry continues for the U.S. men's hockey team.
Host Russia was vanquished by Finland, ruining hopes for a potential Cold War revival. However the streaking Americans took care of their quarterfinal business with a thorough 5-2 victory over the Czech Republic.
Team USA remains undefeated after four games and will face Canada in Friday's semifinals with a chance to compete for an Olympic gold medal for the third time in four Olympics.
"It's two teams that bring out the best in each other," said Parise, the U.S. captain. "We're going to have our hands full. We know it's going to be a great game."
Parise scored his first goal of the tournament on a second-period power play, and Suter added three assists to strengthen the United States' well-balanced scoring attack. Jonathan Quick made 21 saves for his third victory.
Five different players scored for Team USA, which leads the tournament with 20 goals. Defenseman Paul Martin is the only player who has dressed all four games without a point.
"There's a lot of talented guys on this team, and I'm on it, too," quipped center David Backes, who has goals in three games. "It seems to be a great balance. We've got guys willing to do the dirty work. Guys like Ryan Callahan tonight. He's in front of the net creating havoc. Guys willing to sacrifice or the better of the team. That's what makes us cohesive group and gives us a lot of success."
He, Callahan and Dustin Brown are the "Meat Line," which the affable Backes described thusly:
"I'm the beef. Dustin Brown's the pig or the pork and then Callahan's the chicken," Backes said. "I think the physical play comes first and establishing ourselves on the ice to create more time and space, and then from that there's a little bit of skill mixed in where we can make some plays and create some offense."
Parise and Suter were absent from the scoring entering the game. But Minnesota's top defenseman chipped in offensively with some critical thinking.
As the first period was winding down, Suter had the puck at the blue line. He saw a narrow lane to get Backes the puck at the right side of the net. But Suter had to recalibrate his pass, firing it off the back boards for Backes to retrieve and chop it over Czech goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
"I was trying to make a play," Suter said. "I was facing him so I saw him. Not much thinking that goes into it just trying to get it to the open guy. I was just shooting for a hole there, trying to get it through. I was just trying to miss that first guy."
Suter, as expected, led the way with 22:10 of ice time and drew high praise from coach Dan Bylsma.
"[Suter] might have been the best player on the ice tonight," Bylsma said. "This was easily his best game of the tournament."
Parise's tally gave Team USA a 4-1 lead. He tucked in a sharp-angle shot that ultimately chased Pavelec. It was one of two poor goals Pavelec yielded, including James van Riemsdyk's jam at the post, which gave the Americans a 1-0 lead 1 minute, 39 seconds into the game.
Ales Hemsky answered for the Czechs at 4:31, getting credit for the first of his two goals after defenseman Ryan McDonagh's clearing attempt in the crease ricocheted off Suter's shin past Quick.
However Brown regained the U.S. lead with a slam dunk after Backes threaded him a perfect cross-ice pass. Phil Kessel added his fifth goal of the tournament as Team USA continues to find creative ways to fill the net while other Olympic teams have struggled to score.
"We're playing fast, scoring off the rush, scoring on the power play," Parise said. "But I think the way they tried to design this team [was] with a lot of speed. I think that's really played to our advantage on the bigger rink. Our transition game, our mobile-D are moving the puck really well."
For the third time since 2002 the United States and Canada will play in the medal round, with the winner advancing to play Sweden or Finland for gold. Canada defeated Team USA in the gold medal game in 2002 and 2010.
"We'll need no motivation and it's going to be some great hockey on Friday night," said Backes.