Team USA had their hands full in the opening minutes of their quarterfinal matchup against the Czech Republic on Wednesday, but thanks to big afternoons from Ryan Kesler and David Backes they were able to put the game away early as they cruised to the semi-finals with a 5-2 victory.
James Van Riemsdyk, Dustin Brown and Backes all scored first period goals as the U.S. got their offense in order early on, and Jonathan Quick made 19 saves in the winning effort as the Americans set up a semi-final showdown with their arch-rival Canadians on Friday.
The game got off to a tremendous start for the American side as they dominated early puck possession and scored just two minutes into the contest. Patrick Kane was forced off the puck along the boards, but he made a nice pass back to Ryan Kesler. Kesler himself was shoved to the ice, but he hit a back-handed pass to van Riemsdyk, who jumped to the front of the net and somehow put a shot off of Ondrej Pavelec to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead.
After that play, the momentum seemed to shift to the Czech side. After a great rush to the net by Ales Hemsky, the puck ended up laying in front of the goal crease. U.S. defenseman Ryan McDonagh tried to clear the puck, but it bounced off of Ryan Suter’s skate instead and into the back of the net, tying the game at 1-1 and giving many American fans pause.
The Czechs had a couple more really nice opportunities, including a Hemsky shot that evaded Quick but was quickly pushed out of the crease by Cam Fowler, but the chances seemed to energize the Americans. Fowler took a shot that rang off the cross-bar after the U.S. won a face-off, and then van Riemsdyk got a great chance off a pass from Phil Kessel, but his shot was steered wide by Pavelec.
Finally, the Americans were able to use their physicality and quick passing to take the lead back with a little over five minutes remaining in the first. First it was Backes forcing Jaromir Jagr off the puck in the neutral zone. Then Backes got the puck in the low slot in the offensive zone, and fired a gorgeous pass across the ice to Brown, who made a nifty one-time shot that evaded Pavelec and made it a 2-1 game.
The two sides looked to be heading to intermission with the U.S. only leading by one, but in a flash, the Americans grabbed a two goal lead with just 1.8 seconds left. McDonagh made a nifty play in the middle of the ice to get two Czech defenders to collapse on him, then he back-passed to Suter. Suter’s shot on net went wide, but Backes was there to pick up the rebound and shovel it into the net from a tough angle to give the Americans a 3-1 lead as the two teams went to intermission.
The Czech Republic came out in the second period still trying to assert themselves on the physical side of things, but the U.S. largely was able to maintain puck possession in spite of the onslaught. That ability eventually got to the Czech side, and they sent the Americans to the power play on a silly penalty.
The Americans seemed to have some difficulty in establish possession early on in the man-advantage, but they finally got their act together late and eventually took a three goal lead. After a Joe Pavelski shot in from the slot hit traffic in front and bounced to the side of the net, Parise was able to pick up the rebound and somehow slide it under Pavelec’s leg pad, forcing the Czech goaltender from the game and making the score 4-1 in the process.
The remainder of the period continued to see the Czechs attempting to muscle American players off the puck, but several players were still able to get some great chances for the U.S. side. Kane was the first as he got a good opportunity coming in off the rush, but new Czech goaltender Alex Salak was able to stop the shot. A little bit later on, Backes nearly scored his second goal of the game on a play in front of the net, but on successive shot attempts he couldn’t put the puck in the net.
Brooks Orpik committed a silly interference penalty late in the period for the Americans, but his penalty was erased when Jakub Voracek followed suit to make it a 4-on-4 situation. Neither team could take advantage, and the Americans headed into the intermission maintaining their three goal advantage.
Early in the third period, the U.S. squad was able to extend their lead even further. On a nice rush up the ice by Kesler, he found a streaking Kessel heading to the net, and the Toronto Maple Leafs goal scoring whiz was able to pot the easy goal to make it a 5-1 game early in the frame.
After a long stretch of U.S. puck dominance, the Czechs were finally able to get back on the board thanks to the strong play of Hemsky. He cut through the middle of the ice between American defenders, and his strong wrist shot beat Quick to make it a 5-2 game with just seven minutes left.