Winter Olympics
Latvia-Czech Republic Preview
Winter Olympics

Latvia-Czech Republic Preview

Updated Sep. 26, 2022 9:06 a.m. ET

Jaromir Jagr and his Czech Republic teammates are still feelingthe sting of their first loss of the Vancouver Olympics, which costthe club first place in Group B and a bye through Tuesday's playoffqualifications.

Once the Czechs recover, they may see it as a blessing indisguise.

The fifth-seeded Czech Republic begins what could be a moremanageable road to a possible medal Tuesday night against Latvia,which finished last among the 12 Olympic teams in the preliminaryround and already lost once to the Czechs.

Russia claimed Group B and a ticket to the quarterfinals with a4-2 win over the Czech Republic on Sunday, scoring the eventualgame-winning goal early in the third period after Alex Ovechkin'sjarring hit on Jagr knocked the puck loose to begin a rush.


"I made one turnover there and it cost us the game. I feelhorrible," Jagr said. "I didn't see if it was an elbow or not. Itdoesn't really matter. It wasn't called. They got the puck, theyscored. That heals, but the mistake doesn't heal."

After beating Slovakia and Latvia by a combined 8-3 margin tobegin the tournament, the Czechs can still take some positives fromthe defeat.

They skated competitively with the favored Russians, outshootingthem 20-19 in the final two periods, and Milan Michalek's goal cuttheir deficit to one with 5:09 left before an empty-netter sealedit for Russia.

"We played a good game," said Florida Panthers goalie TomasVokoun, who made 27 saves. "We ended up losing. It's a tournamentand you have to shake it off pretty quickly if you want to goanywhere.

"We are going to the crunch time," he added. "We didn't want toplay the extra game, but we have to. We just have to refocus and westill have as good a chance as anybody."

The Czechs may have an even better chance than they expectedthanks to the playoff draw, which was determined later Sunday.While they wouldn't have to play Tuesday if they had beaten Russia,they likely would have drawn the quarterfinal matchup with hostCanada that the Russians are now expecting.

Instead, if the Czechs get past Latvia, they will play Finlandin the quarterfinals. If they keep winning, they would not have toface any of the biggest pre-tournament favorites - Russia, Canadaor Sweden - until the gold-medal game.

The Czech Republic shouldn't have much trouble beating Latvia,which lost its three preliminary games by a combined 19-4, a dismalgoal differential that earned the team the lowest seed for theplayoff round.

The Czechs outshot the Latvians 39-18 during a 5-2 win Friday,jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first 5:07 and cruising the restof the way.

"Their speed, we couldn't match up," said Latvia captain KarlisSkrastins, one of two current NHL players on the team. The CzechRepublic has 16.

Minnesota Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky had three assists inthat game for the Czechs, while Patrik Elias and Tomas Kaberle eachadded a goal and an assist.

Latvia, which also finished last at the 2006 Olympics, didn'tfare any better in its final preliminary-round game, losing 6-0 toSlovakia on Saturday. Despite the failures, the underdog team stillseems optimistic it can earn its first Olympic win since it beatAustria in 2002.

"We haven't upset anyone yet, so it's coming up," forwardHerberts Vasiljevs said.


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