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NEWS

Czech Republic excited for chance to knock off U.S.

Wednesday, 02.19.2014 / 9:20 AM / News
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Czech Republic excited for chance to knock off U.S.
On paper, there should be no way the Czechs will be able to compete with the high-octane Americans. That reality doesn\'t appear lost on the Czechs. But neither does the reality that if they win one game they are in the semifinals at the Olympics and are guaranteed a shot to play for a medal.

SOCHI -- Czech Republic captain Tomas Plekanec was asked after his team's 5-3 qualifying round win against rival Slovakia on Tuesday how it matched up with the United States, its next opponent in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Plekanec started to laugh.

"Well, they're the favorites, no doubt about that," he said. "They're rested; they should win [Wednesday]. But we're definitely going out there as a team to play the best game of the tournament for us."

On paper, there should be no way the Czechs will be able to compete with the high-octane Americans, who tied for the tournament lead in scoring through the preliminary round and practiced Tuesday while their opponents played a hard-fought game that they almost let slip away in the third period.

That reality doesn't appear lost on the Czechs. But neither does the reality that if they win one game they are in the semifinals at the Olympics and are guaranteed a shot to play for a medal.

Just one game.

"I'm not putting myself down, but if we played best-of-seven, I don't like my chances," Czech center David Krejci said. "But best-of-one? We're going to try to score the first goal and leave everything out there because we don't have to save ourselves for anything. Just go out there, play the game and we'll see what happens."

Though Plekanec laughed at the question, the position where the Czechs probably match up the best with the U.S. is the one he plays: forward.

The Czechs have three solid lines up front that can attack the net and score, led by Plekanec's line with Jaromir Jagr and Roman Cervenka that combined for five points against Slovakia. Krejci centers the second unit with Milan Michalek and Patrik Elias (who didn't play against Slovakia with an illness), and Martin Hanzal centers the third unit with Jakub Voracek and Martin Erat or Ales Hemsky.

Things get a little dicey for the Czechs from there.

Three defensemen get the bulk of the minutes on the blue line: Marek Zidlicky, Ladislav Smid and Tomas Kaberle. They are followed by three solid NHL defensemen in Zbynek Michalek, Radko Gudas and Michal Rozsival. Against a lesser team that group of six would probably be an advantage, but not against the American forwards that will be coming at them in waves.

The Czech Republic's biggest mismatch may be in goal, where Ondrej Pavelec will face Jonathan Quick with less than 24 hours of rest. Pavelec is 10th in the tournament with a .923 save percentage and Quick is sixth at .944, but the difference in big-game experience is where Quick separates himself the most.

However, as Pavelec pointed out when asked if he's ever faced the U.S. in international competition before, the Czechs beat the Americans in the quarterfinals of the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships 4-0.

There are 10 players on this Czech team who played in that game, including Pavelec, who made 29 saves in the shutout win. But there were only five Americans who played in that game who will play in the Olympic quarterfinal Wednesday.

"We were a pretty similar team like we have now and they had a little bit different team," Pavelec remembered. "They jumped on us in the first period, I remember that game. They had two chances, they didn't score and we scored. But it's going to be a completely different game."

Pavelec said he has no idea what to expect out of the game against the U.S., but it is exactly the type of game he and every other player here came to Sochi to play.

"It's like the NHL, you want to win every game. But of course, you lose the game you're not out in the NHL," Pavelec said. "Now, everything you've got you have to put it on the ice. We play a lot of times back to back in the NHL so it's going to be the same thing, but one more loss and we're going home. That's why we're here, that's why it's so exciting, that's why everybody wants to play here and that's why we play.

"It's going to be an exciting day for us."

Arpon Basu | Managing Editor LNH.com

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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 MTL 61 40 16 5 167 135 85
2 NYI 63 41 20 2 202 174 84
3 NYR 60 38 16 6 190 148 82
4 TBL 63 38 19 6 207 167 82
5 DET 61 35 15 11 180 159 81
6 PIT 61 35 17 9 176 152 79
7 WSH 63 33 20 10 184 159 76
8 BOS 61 30 22 9 161 160 69
9 FLA 62 27 22 13 150 175 67
10 PHI 62 26 25 11 164 181 63
11 OTT 59 26 23 10 167 161 62
12 NJD 62 25 27 10 139 164 60
13 CBJ 60 26 30 4 157 189 56
14 TOR 61 25 31 5 170 185 55
15 CAR 60 23 30 7 137 159 53
16 BUF 63 19 39 5 123 212 43

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
M. Cammalleri 50 23 9 3 32
A. Henrique 55 12 20 -1 32
P. Elias 52 10 15 -14 25
S. Gomez 38 5 18 -9 23
M. Zidlicky 62 4 19 -8 23
T. Zajac 54 9 10 -5 19
S. Bernier 47 10 8 1 18
M. Ryder 43 6 12 -2 18
A. Larsson 44 2 16 2 18
M. Havlat 38 5 9 -12 14
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 22 23 6 .926 2.23
K. Kinkaid 3 4 3 .915 2.59