Slovakia-Canada Preview

BY foxsports • February 25, 2010

Canada's rich Olympic history in men's ice hockey is punctuated with a total of 12 medals. Slovakia, meanwhile, will try to make a little more history wile seeking its first.

A pair of teams brimming with confidence off stunning wins meet Friday night when the resurgent Canadians take on the upstart Slovakians with a berth in Sunday's gold medal game on the line.

After routing Germany 8-2 in a qualification game Tuesday to reach the playoff round, Canada faced Russia the next night in what appeared to be a matchup with championship overtones.

It was anything but as the Canadians scored three times in the first 13 minutes and rolled to a 7-3 win. Anaheim's Corey Perry scored twice, and Ducks teammate Ryan Getzlaf and Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks each had a goal and two assists.

"We just wanted to step on the gas pedal from the drop of the puck,'' Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger said after Canada also dominated Russia with a hard-checking edge.

"It's always try to break their will, that's what you try to do out there, you're trying to break the other team,'' Getzlaf said.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that high-scoring Sidney Crosby failed to notch a point in his matchup against Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, who also was held off the scoresheet.

Crosby is tied with Ovechkin for the NHL lead with 42 goals. While the Pittsburgh Penguins captain has six points during his much-ballyhooed Olympic debut, Canada has received bigger contributions from other sources.

Dany Heatley of the Sharks and the Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews - also a first-time Olympian - are tied with Slovakia's Marian Hossa and Pavol Demitra for the scoring lead with seven points each. Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla has a team-high five goals for the Canadians.

Besides rediscovering an offensive spark, Canada also has gotten great play from Roberto Luongo of the hometown Canucks. Luongo, who blanked Norway in the Olympic opener and later replaced an ineffective Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils, has posted a 1.67 goals-against average so far.

To skate away with its seventh gold and second in three Olympics, Canada is halfway home to its goal of winning four games in a five-day span. No team has taken gold on its home soil since the "Miracle on Ice" U.S. team at Lake Placid 30 years ago.

"We try to prove on a regular basis that's it ours," Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of the importance placed on hockey in the fabric of Canadian life. "I'm a bit of a redneck, and I think it's ours."

While the Canadians are used to having medals hanging from their necks, reaching this round is all-new territory for Slovakia, which advanced to its first Olympic semifinal by pulling off the biggest upset so far in British Columbia.

Tomas Kopecky of the Blackhawks scored the decisive goal in the third period in a 4-3 win over defending Olympic champion Sweden on Tuesday.

"It's the biggest achievement so far in the short history of Slovak Republic," forward Miroslav Satan of the Boston Bruins said. "We definitely going to enjoy it for a while and then focus on the next game."

Following the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Slovaks had never finished higher than fifth in any of four Olympics. While Satan is confident, he also knows where his country stands among the four teams remaining.

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

Getting off to a quick start against the host nation will be key if Slovakia wants a shot at gold.

"We know they're going to come out hard, they're going to play at home, and the first 10 minutes are of the game are going to be important, the first period," said Marian Gaborik. "They're a very strong team and it's going to be tough, but so was this game and we beat Sweden."

Gaborik has overcome a badly lacerated thigh suffered in a practice with the New York Rangers earlier this month to lead Slovakia with three goals, and Jaroslav Halak of the Montreal Canadiens has a 1.97 GAA with one shutout.

The winner of this contest will face either the United States or Finland for the gold medal.

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