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Semis ready for anything

Slovakia and Lightning defenseman Andrej Meszaros, right, celebrates after beating Sweden.

Associated Press

Slovakia and Lightning defenseman Andrej Meszaros, right, celebrates after beating Sweden.

VANCOUVER — Canada was supposed to get this far, then it wasn't.

Slovakia never expected to be in this game, and now it is.

Canada's men's hockey team — fading a few days ago — is flying again, rejuvenated by a 7-3 rout of Russia in the quarterfinals. The not-even-close game against a prime gold-medal contender re-energized not only an underperforming team but a worried nation that was fearing a second successive Olympic failure by its deep cast of NHL all-stars.

In today's semifinals it faces Slovakia, a surprise 4-3 quarterfinal winner over 2006 champion Sweden to make the medal round for the first time, which had forward Miroslav Satan saying, "It's the biggest achievement so far in the short history of Slovak Republic."

In the other semifinal, the United States, the only team left that hasn't lost in the tournament, meets defending silver medalist Finland, which ousted the Czech Republic and Jaromir Jagr 2-0 late Wednesday.

An unexpected 5-3 loss to the United States on Sunday dropped Canada into a loaded bracket with Russia and Sweden, but both those teams are gone now.

Sweden couldn't control Slovakia's wealth of talent at forward — the Rangers' Marian Gaborik, the Blackhawks' Marian Hossa, the Canucks' Pavol Demitra — talent Canada can more than match.

Consider this: Fourteen Canadians had a goal or an assist against Russia, and not one of them was named Sidney Crosby. The Penguins star has three goals in the Olympics and won the shootout against Switzerland, yet hasn't had a breakout game.

"Canada is probably the best team in this tournament," Satan said. "We're going to be the underdog as we were (against Sweden), so we have nothing to lose."

Crosby told NHL.com the Canadians watched the Slovakia-Sweden game, "so I think we have a pretty good idea of how committed they are to playing as a team, and it's going to be a good test for us."

The Americans' opponent was in the second tier of pretournament medal contenders.

"We are probably not the biggest favorites here," said goalie Miikka Kiprusoff of the Flames, who made 31 saves against the Czechs. "But when you play as a team, everything is possible."

The Americans and the Finns have met in each of the past two Olympics, with Finland winning their most recent quarterfinal, in 2006.

"It's not going to be easy," said Finland and Ducks forward Teemu Selanne, who at 39 is playing in his final Olympics and became the top scorer in men's Olympic hockey history in this tournament. "We want to play our best game that night, and whatever happens, we can live with that."

For the Czechs, the 38-year-old Jagr played through an upper-body injury but couldn't capitalize on several golden scoring chances in what was almost certainly his final Olympic game.

"It always comes to the goaltender, whoever makes better saves," the former NHL MVP and Stanley Cup winner said. "Unless you get such scoring power — nobody really has it, (except) Canada."

Semis ready for anything 02/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2010 10:56pm]
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