Tre Kronor's reign ends

Defending champs from '06 dethroned, Slovaks make history

Canada Hockey Place Vancouver British Columbia Canada

Tomas Kopecky (#82) exults after scoring the third-period winner. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images.

VANCOUVER – Farewell, Sweden. In the last men's quarterfinal, Slovakia advanced to a semi-final meeting with Canada on Friday, edging the 2006 champs from Turin 4-3. The U.S. will face Finland in the early semi-final.

Click here for the photo gallery of the game.

Tomas Kopecky scored the third-period winner, and Pavol Demitra paced the Slovak attack with a goal and two assists. Marian Gaborik and Andrej Sekera added singles, while Marian Hossa had two helpers.

"It is an awesome feeling, beating one of the favorites in the tournament," said Hossa of the biggest 2010 upset to date. "We played well defensively tonight."

Patric Hornqvist, Henrik Zetterberg, and Daniel Alfredsson replied for Sweden.

"I don't really have an explanation," said Nicklas Backström. "They're a good team. We knew that, but we weren't ready. We didn't play as well as we could have."

It wasn't a vintage outing for superstar Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist, as Slovakia fired just 14 shots on goal to Sweden's 29. Jaroslav Halak got the win for the Slovaks.

Heading for its first Olympic semi-final appearance, Slovakia is guaranteed a top-four finish and a shot at its first hockey medal at the Games. The Slovaks came fifth four years ago in Turin, eliminated by the Czechs in the quarterfinals after winning five straight in the preliminary round.

Slovakia, which will host the 2011 IIHF World Championship in Bratislava and Kosice, has only three previous senior IIHF medals to its credit, all from the Worlds: gold (2002), silver (2000), and bronze (2003).

The game started slowly, but turned into a frenzy of trading chances as time wore on: however, the Slovaks never trailed.

"It's ideal when we get the lead and can play our game, but we weren't able to do that tonight," said Zetterberg.

Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky nearly hooked up on a 2-on-1 in the opening minute, but there weren't many dangerous scoring opportunities as the teams cautiously felt each other out. In the first period, the Slovaks failed to capitalize on three power play chances to Sweden's one.

The physical intensity increased just before the buzzer, as Slovak captain Zdeno Chara nearly put Henrik Tallinder over the boards with a big hit, and Swedish defenceman Mattias Öhlund stood Marian Hossa up at the blueline with a solid open-ice cruncher.

In the second period, the Slovaks got to Lundqvist in a big way, scoring three times on just four shots.

First, the Swedes were caught with too many men on the ice, and paid the price. Slovakia opened the scoring at 7:34 when Marian Hossa fed a perfect cross-ice pass on the power play to Gaborik, whose one-timer along the ice beat Lundqvist. It ended the Swedish starter's tournament-best shutout streak, which included wins over Belarus (2-0) and Finland (3-0).

Just 37 seconds later, the Slovaks opened up a 2-0 lead when Richard Zednik sped away on a 2-on-1, feeding a nice backhand pass by the stick of Nicklas Lidström to Andrej Sekera, who made no mistake. Zigmund Palffy, who received the second assist, took a hit to make the play, as he was crushed in his own zone by Niklas Kronwall stepping up in vintage fashion.

The Swedes cut the deficit to 2-1 at 13:49 of the second with some magic courtesy of the suddenly-awakened Peter Forsberg line. From behind the goal line, “Foppa” got his first point of the Olympic tournament with a perfect backhand pass to Hornqvist, who in turn lifted a backhand past Halak's right pad.

Just 37 seconds later, Forsberg bulled his way to the net and distracted Milan Jurcina as Zetterberg's 2-2 goal at 14:26 bounced in off the big Slovak defender.

But the Swedish rally wasn't enough. With 48 seconds left in the second period, Demitra put Slovakia up 3-2 on the man advantage with a screened slapshot that whizzed over Lundqvist's left shoulder.

"It was a huge goal by Demitra," said Marian Hossa. "When you score a goal with three seconds left in the period, it is a confidence-booster."

The third period witnessed more dramatics. With 11 minutes left, Demitra busted down right wing, fed Marian Hossa on the other side, and Kopecky raced in to convert the garbage into a 4-2 Slovak lead.

The Swedes weren't done, though. Half a minute later, Nicklas Backström grabbed the puck behind the goal line and fed a sweet centering pass to Alfredsson, who snapped it over Halak's glove to make it 4-3. That was as close as Tre Kronor would come.

Sweden buzzed Halak's cage in the dying minutes but failed to get the equalizer. The Slovaks mobbed their goalie jubilantly at the final buzzer.

"We beat a quality team tonight," said Chara. "Sweden were outstanding throughout the tournament. We have to enjoy tonight, but get ready for the next one."

The Slovaks played without forward Lubos Bartecko, who was concussed on a hit by Norwegian defenceman Ole Kristian Tollefsen in Slovakia's 4-3 qualification playoff win on Tuesday.





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