Norway-Slovakia Preview

BY foxsports • February 22, 2010

Slovakia is rolling into the Olympics' playoff round again, and this time an early exit isn't likely.

The surging Slovakians might be in for another strong scoring display Tuesday night when they face Norway, which is searching for its first Olympic win in 38 years.

Slovakia opened the Olympics with a 3-1 loss to neighboring rival Czech Republic on Wednesday, but rebounded a day later with a 2-1 win over Russia as Pavol Demitra clinched the victory in the seventh round of the shootout.

The team built on that upset Saturday, beating Latvia 6-0 to finish third in Group B.

"We have momentum and it's up to us to keep it," said right wing Miroslav Satan, who returned from a hand injury Saturday.

Slovakia had a great deal of momentum four years ago at the Turin Games, winning all five group games including victories over the United States, Russia and Sweden - the eventual gold-medal winner. However, the team's surprising run was halted in the quarterfinals by the Czechs, failing to claim its first Olympic medal since the nation gained its independence from Czechoslovakia in 1993.

Getting a medal in Vancouver won't be an easy task, either. The winner of this game will meet the unbeaten Swedes in Wednesday's quarterfinals.

Before that, Slovakia will likely showcase its offensive depth against Norway, which has tied the Latvians for the most goals allowed at 19.

Slovakia's nine goals have been scored by eight players - only Marian Hossa has two. Twelve players have at least one point, with Hossa, Demitra, Michal Handzus and Jozef Stumpel leading the team with three each.

Handzus and Stumpel got all of their points against Latvia.

Superb goaltending from Jaroslav Halak, though, could become the difference between a medal and another early return home.

Halak, who made 21 saves Saturday, has a 1.30 goals-against average in three games, and Slovakia has allowed four goals to tie Finland for the second-fewest at the tournament behind Sweden's two.

Halak's emergence, though, may not be a big surprise. He's 17-10-2 with a 2.56 GAA and three shutouts for Montreal in the NHL, creating a goaltending controversy with Carey Price.

"That's something we didn't have in previous international tournaments, such quality goaltending," Satan said.

Norway is trying to end a 28-game winless run (including three ties) at the Olympics after losing all three games in Group A to the United States, Canada and Switzerland.

The Norwegians haven't won at the Games since beating the Swiss 5-3 on Feb. 12, 1972. They hadn't played in the Olympics since the NHL began supplying players in 1998, and have lost 13 straight following a tie with Austria in 1984.

Center Tore Vikingstad did his part to try to end the streak Saturday, netting a hat trick before Pal Grotnes gave up a goal 2:28 into overtime to lose 5-4 to Switzerland.

"Scoring a hat trick in the Olympics was not even anything I was dreaming about," Vikingstad said. "The only thing was we didn't win the game though, but still it was fun."

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