After Nino Niederreiter and Team Switzerland’s untimely elimination yesterday, the pressure was on for Minnesota Wild skaters Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund as they played in elimination games of their own for the United States and Finland, respectively. Fortunately, all three put forward impressive performances, combining for two goals and four assists on the day.
After not scoring in the tournament’s previous games, Parise would score on a second period power play for his first goal of the games and Suter would chip in three assists as the Americans (for the most part) easily handled the Czechs, winning by the score of 5-2.
Here’s NHL.com with the full game recap:
SOCHI – While their neighbors to the north were fighting to stay alive in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the United States men’s hockey players once again methodically went about their business without any drama or suspense at Shayba Arena.
Ryan Suter had three assists, Ryan Kesler had two and David Backes had a monster game as the United States reached the semifinals of the tournament with a 5-2 victory against Czech Republic on Wednesday.
The U.S. will face Canada in the semifinals Friday at Bolshoy Ice Dome. The Americans will be playing for a second straight trip to the gold-medal game. They got there in 2010 but lost in overtime to Canada.
Canada survived a scare from Latvia in the other quarterfinal, winning 2-1.
The U.S. hasn’t won Olympic gold since 1980, when coach Herb Brooks and his group of college kids pulled off the miracle in Lake Placid, N.Y. It has two gold medals in men’s hockey in the past 54 years.
Suter had assists on goals by Backes, Dustin Brown and Zach Parise. Toronto Maple Leafs teammates James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel also scored for the Americans. Backes had an assist on Brown’s goal with a tape-to-tape seam pass from out of the right corner, setting the Los Angeles Kings captain up for a one-timer he simply could not miss.
The U.S. had 11 players with at least a point.
Parise’s first goal of the tournament came on the power play 9:31 into the second period and gave the U.S. a 4-1 lead. It was the last shot Czech goalie Ondrej Pavelec faced as he was replaced by Alexander Salak after giving up four goals on 12 shots.
Parise and van Riemsdyk beat Pavelec, the Winnipeg Jets goalie, with shots that went in off the goalie’s pads.
Hemsky was credited with the Czech goal that tied the game at 1-1 with 15:29 left in the first period, but it actually was an own-goal by the Americans as defenseman Ryan McDonagh shot the puck off Suter’s skate and into the net.
The U.S. got on the board just 1:39 into the game when van Riemsdyk put his shot from the right post in off of Pavelec’s left pad. Pavelec appeared to be off his angle and couldn’t hug his pad to the post.
Hemsky scored less than three minutes later as the Czechs started to take control of the game by playing faster than the Americans and winning nearly every race to loose pucks, particularly in the U.S. defensive zone.
Jakub Voracek hit the crossbar with 10:22 remaining in the first period. Hemsky’s shot a few minutes later got through Quick but dribbled through the crease slow enough that McDonagh could retreat and swipe it out of the blue paint.
The U.S. got its lead back with 5:22 to play in the first period as Brown received a perfect pass through the slot from Backes and wired a one-timer into the top of the net. Brown’s first shot from the right point was blocked but the puck came back to Suter, who fed Backes in the corner as Brown curled around the net, finding a soft spot below the left circle for the one-timer.
Just when it appeared the U.S. would have to settle for a one-goal lead after 20 minutes, Suter’s shot with only seconds left hit off the end boards and went right to Backes, who was standing to the right of the post. Backes collected the puck, wheeled and shot, beating Pavelec with 1.8 seconds left for the backbreaking goal.
Parise’s power-play goal came midway through the second period. Kessel scored his fifth goal of the tournament 2:01 into the third period.
For now, Wild fans can breathe a small sigh of relief. The players, however, have their sights set on a new target–getting into the gold medal game. Granlund and Finland have the always difficult Swedes to face. The top ranked team in the tournament, Sweden has been dominant thanks to solid two-way play and arguably the world’s best goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. However, the feisty Finns may be just the team to cause a normally flawless Team Sweden to come undone. After all, they did beat the mighty Russians.
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have a very difficult road to the gold medal game, as well. The Americans and Canadians are set to do battle in the first and only matchup between these two teams in the Sochi games. In a rematch of the 2010 gold medal game, only one will advance. The Canadians are looking to defend their gold medal, and are sure to be doubly prepared after a scare against the scrappy Latvians today. In order for Team USA to advance, captain Zach Parise and company are going to have to give their best performance of the tournament.
Will Granlund and Finland find a way past Lundqvist and the Swedes? Will Parise and Suter build upon a confidence-building performance against the Czechs and overcome the ever-present Canadians? These are questions that can only be answered when the puck drops on Friday’s semifinal games. What an amazing tournament this has turned out to be. We’ll see you then.