The Czech Republic dodged a monumental collapse on Tuesday, building up a four-goal lead before hanging on to beat Slovakia 5-3 at the Shayba Arena.
With the win, the Czechs will now face the high-flying Americans in the quarterfinal.
Getting there, however, was an adventure.
Victory seemed almost certain after Roman Cervenka scored his second goal of the game with under five minutes left in the second period, giving the Czechs a commanding 4-0 lead. That came after his team got off to a fast start, scoring three times in the game’s first 18 minutes while out-shooting the Slovaks 13-7 in the first period.
But after Cervenka’s second marker, the Slovaks woke up.
Marian Hossa ripped off two quick two goals — his only markers of the tournament — before Tomas Surovy scored with 11 minutes left to cut the Czech lead to one. From there, the action was furious. Slovakia peppered Ondrej Pavelec with shots and the Czech goalie did well in the face of pressure, stopping 13 of 15 third period chances to secure the win. Overall, Pavelec stopped 29 of 32 shots; his counterpart, Slovak netminder Jan Laco, kicked out 25 of 29.
Tomas Plekanec scored the insurance marker into an empty net with 39 seconds remaining. He, along with Cervenka, Tomas Kaberle and David Krejci all tallied two points for the Czechs while Hossa, Michal Handzus and Andrej Sekera all notched a pair of points for the Slovaks.
Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see what Czech team shows up to play the U.S. For two periods on Tuesday, the Czechs looked the best they have all tournament long… but this is also the same squad that slogged through a dysfunctional opening round, winning just one in three tries amidst questionable player selection (see here), illness (see here and here) and a curious distribution of ice time (see here).