USA Cruises Past Aging Czech Squad 5-2, Seals Spot in Semi-Finals

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

The US made relatively painless work of the Czech Republic's "veteran" squad, taking advantage of shaky goaltending and a top-heavy offense from their opponents to seal a date with Canada in the semi-finals.

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Final Score: United States 5, Czech Republic 2

First Period Recap: American coach Dan Bylsma must be an avid Anaheim Calling podcast listener. Right from the get-go we got a glimpse of some shuffled forward lines, notably pairing Zach Parise with Ryan Kesler and Patrick Kane, and moving Dustin Brown to an energy-line role with David Backes and Ryan Callahan; exactly what we said should be the case.

And this energy line was given the task of containing one of the most dynamic and skilled players the game has ever seen in Jaromir Jagr. Despite his age, Jagr has been tearing it up this season for the New Jersey Devils, coming into these Olympics with a whopping 49 points.

The US got off to a flying start, however, as just over a minute into the game James van Riemsdyk carried a puck from behind the net and squeaked it past surprise Czech starter Ondrej Pavelec, who was not flush to his post.

Not the best goal to give up, but the US took an early 1-0 lead.

Less than three minutes later, the Czechs responded with a massive stroke of luck to even the score. Ales Hemsky put a nice spin-o-rama move on the US defense but lost the puck in front of Jonathan Quick. Ryan McDonaugh attempted to clear it out of the front of his crease, but banked it off the skate of Ryan Suter, which deflected it over a sprawled Jonathan Quick and into the net.

That would hold until about 10 minutes later when David Backes sent long pass from the side boards all the way across the ice through the low-slot to Dustin Brown, who banged home a one-timer from just in front of the goal line. The new-look energy line from the US produced quickly (*pats self on back*) and the US went right back up top.

Despite the goal coming from a pretty poor angle, you can't really fault Pavelec for that one, as in reality there was no excuse for that kind of a pass to whiz right by two Czech defenders who weren't really marking anybody but instead just standing in front of their goal.

And the US was not done yet. With just two seconds remaining in the period, David Backes got hold of a puck shot wide off the active end boards and lifted it over a sprawled Pavelec and in off the post to put the US up 3-1 heading into the locker room.

Shots in the period favored the United States 9-7.

Second Period Recap: The thing with goals super late in periods like the USA's third tally is that they completely deflate all the momentum out of the team that gives it up.

This is clearly what happened to the Czech Republic as they came out and just couldn't get anything going. For a large part of the second period, the US dominated. Despite a few sparse Czech offensive rushes here and there, the United States defense kept the Europeans completely in control.

At the 8:27 mark, Zbynek Michalek was whistled for interference as he took down Phil Kessel on an up-ice rush.

The US struck again on the ensuing power play, continuing their trend of lethal dominance with the extra man.

Joe Pavelski's shot deflected to the side of the net where Zach Parise was able to bank yet another goal in off the pad of Pavelec.

That would spell the end of the night, and in turn the Olympics, for the Winnipeg Jets goaltender, as he gave way to Alexander Salak.

Salak would hold the fort for the remainder of the period, though he did face a few tough shots from the United States.

Both teams would fail on short power plays late in the frame, as a stupidly unnecessary Brooks Orpik boarding penalty for hitting Jaromir Jagr from behind well away from the play was cancelled out by a Jakub Voracek tripping minor.

The USA once again put nine shots on the Czech net, while holding the Czechs to only six of their own this frame.

Third Period Recap: The third period predictably saw the Czechs start to mount some pressure of their own as the US tapered off on their offensive push, and focused more on closing the game out defensively. This led to a good number of sequences of sustained pressure in the USA zone, but Jon Quick held strong, including on a mad scramble in front of the American goal where the referee kept sight of the puck despite pretty much everybody on the ice except Alexander Salak being somehow in the American goal crease. The puck stayed out, though.

And it would be the United States who would once again pot the goal to all but seal the deal and increase the score to 5-1. Ryan Kesler found a streaking Phil Kessel headed to the far post with a beautiful pass across the Czech zone which Kessel slammed home for his tournament-leading fifth goal and eighth point.

With the cruise control set to "take me home, James," the Czechs continued to push to find a way back into the game, and they eventually did break through with Ales Hemsky's second goal of the night. Hemsky entered the US zone and cut to the middle before letting a wicked wrister go that beat Jonathan Quick over his blocker hand.

It would prove to be too little too late, however, as none of the remaining chances would lead to any additional scoring.

The USA advances to the semi-finals with a 5-3 win over the Czech Republic and now have a date with the Canadians.

Final period shots were 10-7 in favor of the Czechs, leading to a game total of 25-23 United States.

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The Good: The US is showing some serious confidence right now. They had little trouble shutting down the big scoring threats from the Czechs, and kept Jaromir Jagr at bay, dooming him to a -1 finish. The big question mark of the American offense appears to have quelled all doubts, as for the second straight game they put up five goals. And the energy line of Brown-Backes-Callahan looked great. Yes, I am going to keep hammering that point home, because I called that crap.

The Bad: The US still looks a little iffy on its exit passes and defensive zone puck possession. They need to tighten up their defense just a touch and work on effectively getting the puck from their defense to their forwards so not as many passes miss sticks of go straight to the opposition, or worse, result in a turnover inside their own blue line. The third period had a few instances of this which I found a little concerning.

The Ugly: The Czech roster decisions were just horrendous. As predicted, they floundered all tournament with an aging set of veterans who don't even play in one of the world's elite leagues, but rather play in the Czech Extraliga. Tomas Kaberle, who played himself out of the NHL in two years, finished tonight a -2, just a testament to how he hasn't changed. And the top scoring threats for the Czechs went empty. Radim Vrbata, meanwhile, was left on the shelf. I hope the Czechs learned their lesson and won't pass on their best talent for stupid political reasons next time, because the only reason they even got this far into the tournament was because they drew a qualification playoff matchup with perhaps the only team to under-perform worse than them this tournament: Slovakia.

Oh and don't even get me started on those Czech flag jerseys.

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3rd MVP: Ryan Kesler (C, USA): Ryan Kesler continues to be a dominant force for the Americans, with an almost-certainly broken hand. Kesler set up Kessel with a stunning pass for one of his two assists on the night (the other coming on JVR's opening goal), and finished a +2 in 17:20 of ice time. Aside from a nearly-inhuman pain tolerance, this guy's been one hell of a hockey player this entire tournament.

2nd MVP: Ales Hemskey (F, CZE): I have to give some credit to the Edmonton Oilers forward, who persevered through some remarkably boneheaded decisions from the Czech management team to become arguably the best Czech player this tournament. Coming in as the 13th forward who rarely saw any ice time, Hemsky found himself on a line with David Krejci and Milan Michalek and scored both Czech goals in 16:13 of ice time. He played his way up there with a streak of strong performances, and that's deserving of some recognition when his team insisted on playing guys like Petr Nedved and Tomas Kaberle as their go-to's.

1st MVP: David Backes (C, USA): Backes scored a goal, had an assist, and was a whopping 71% in the faceoff circle in 17:42 on the ice. Backes had the tough task of facing the Jagr-Cervenka-Plekanec line all night, and shut him down completely, to the point where it was infuriating for Czech coach Alois Hadamczik that he couldn't get his superstar away from the Backes line.

Next Game: Friday, February 21st at 9am PST vs. Canada
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