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Jagr, Zidlicky score in Czech loss to Sweden

Elias posts assist to round out 2g-1a game for Devils players

Wednesday, 02.12.2014 / 2:40 PM ET / News
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Jagr, Zidlicky score in Czech loss to Sweden

SOCHI -- Sweden needed little more than 24 minutes to prove its status as gold-medal contenders in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The final 35-plus minutes of the game showed the Swedes how much work they still have to do if they want to reach the top of the medal stand Feb. 23.

The Swedes zipped the puck around and scored four goals in the first 24:07 of the game Wednesday, chasing Czech Republic starting goalie Jakub Kovar and giving themselves the cushion they needed for a 4-2 victory in front of a jam-packed and definitely pro-Czech crowd of 11,419 at Bolshoy Ice Dome on the first night of the tournament.

"I got some action early on but after that it was pretty quiet in my end and we played really well. The pucks started going in so we felt this was going to be a nice ride for us," Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "But things changed."

The Czechs made Sweden work for the win thanks to a strong third-period push following back-to-back goals from New Jersey Devils teammates Marek Zidlicky and Jaromir Jagr midway through the second.

They more than doubled their shot total in the third period with 15 and had three power plays within the first 8:28, but Sweden preserved the two-goal lead because its penalty killers were as strong as Lundqvist.

Lundqvist finished the night with 27 saves and defenseman Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson provided some of the offensive punch with a combined four points (two goals for Karlsson, two assists for Ekman-Larsson) to pace Sweden to a win that left them feeling strong, confident and yet still somewhat vulnerable.

Sweden's next game in Group C play is Friday against Switzerland (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN). The Czechs play Latvia on Friday (3 a.m. ET, MSNBC, TSN).

"It's easy to say now because we won the game but I think it became a good test for us instead of running away, scoring four or five goals and just play it out," Sweden forward Daniel Alfredsson said. "We had to play all the way until the end and I think it showed that the last half of the second and early third we were under a lot of pressure and we have to be able to weather that a little bit better than we did [Wednesday]."

Czech coach Alois Hadamczik made the surprising and somewhat controversial decision to start Kovar, a two-time bronze medalist in the IIHF World Championship, ahead of the Winnipeg Jets' Ondrej Pavelec, the only NHL goalie on the roster. Pavelec didn't dress for the game as Hadamczik explained he was giving Pavelec some extra time to adjust his body clock after coming from 10 time zones away.

Kovar, though, gave up three goals on 10 shots and was pulled 51 seconds into the second period. Alexander Salak came in and gave up a goal on the first shot he faced before settling in to stop the final 14 shots he saw.

None of them mattered because the Czechs couldn't make up for what happened within the first 24:07, when Patrik Berglund and Henrik Zetterberg sandwiched goals around Karlsson's two to give Sweden a 4-0 lead.

"I went into the game and there was nothing to lose," Salak said. "I tried to battle hard and even if they scored on the first shot we still played aggressive, we played a good game. That was very important. I'm very proud of my teammates; they backed me up [Wednesday]."

If they had done the same thing for Kovar they might have had a chance to win the game. Instead Czech forward Patrik Elias said his team was far too passive in the first half of the game.

The Swedes were able to win faceoffs, control the puck and get to the front of the net for screens.

Kovar was beaten by Karlsson's slap shot through an Alfredsson screen during a delayed penalty 10:07 into the game. He couldn't stop Berglund’s short-side shot past his blocker off the rush 3:10 later. The kicker came 51 seconds into the second period when Zetterberg scored on a slap shot through an Alexander Steen screen.

"We were just sitting back too much," Elias said. "We were passive. We didn't go. We backed off. We talked about being patient without the puck but that's what we did for the whole period. We got in trouble with the penalties, they scored on it. That's simplified but that was the reason."

It wasn't until after Karlsson scored his second goal, on another slap shot through a screen on a power play, that the Czechs started moving their feet and pushing the pace.

Zidlicky ripped a high, hard shot from the right circle into the net at the 8:12 mark of the second period and Jagr scored with a one-handed shot past Lundqvist’s right pad just 1:49 later.

The Czechs didn't back off, but the Swedes didn't seem to mind either. They showed some warts, but at least now they have some things to focus on in practice Thursday.

If they had won in a rout then the Swedes wouldn't feel as battle-tested as they do now and Lundqvist still would be waiting to feel the heat in what is expected to blossom into an intense, pressure-packed tournament for him and his countrymen.

"You don't want a game to go perfectly. You want a test," Lundqvist said. "I think it's good for the morale and good for the group here to regroup a little bit."

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 54 32 16 6 150 122 70
3 NYR 54 31 18 5 153 135 67
4 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
5 DET 54 28 18 8 136 132 64
6 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
7 TBL 53 29 20 4 140 127 62
8 PIT 53 27 19 7 138 135 61
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 MTL 55 27 24 4 147 145 58
11 PHI 53 24 20 9 127 138 57
12 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
15 BUF 55 21 28 6 125 151 48
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
L. Stempniak 55 15 25 6 40
M. Cammalleri 42 14 24 15 38
A. Henrique 53 18 18 14 36
K. Palmieri 55 20 15 3 35
T. Zajac 47 8 18 7 26
D. Schlemko 47 6 9 -8 15
A. Larsson 55 2 11 12 13
D. Severson 51 1 12 -1 13
A. Greene 55 4 6 2 10
J. Josefson 44 3 7 -14 10
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 24 16 6 .930 2.01
K. Kinkaid 3 5 1 .909 2.52
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