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Qualification Round Olympic Hockey Round Up

by Photo of Gil Santos

Underdogs Slovenia and Latvia earn their first quarterfinal appearances. Russia and Czech Republic advance.

Qualification Round Olympic Hockey Round Up

Slovenia breezes past Austria 4-0 for their first quarterfinals

In their first Olympics, Slovenia was supposed to be a team that was just happy to be there. Now they are one of the final eight teams left in the tournament.

Slovenia has played with a lot of heart all tournament. They gave a scare to the hosts, Russia, in their opening game. They got their first Olympic win against a supposedly better team in Slovakia and they played hard in defeat against the United States.

Led by their lone NHL player, Los Angeles Kings' Anze Koptiar, Slovenia played their best game yet, dominating Austria 4-0 to earn a spot in the quarterfinals against top-seeded Sweden.

Kopitar opened up the scoring with a power play goal at 5:29 in the first period. Jan Urbas made it 2-0 with a shorthanded goal. In the second period, Sabhudin Kovacevic increased the lead to three with a slap shot at 3:21. Jan Mursak topped the victory off with an empty netter in the final period.

Austria, which has three NHL players of their own, could not solve Slovenian netminder Robert Kristan. Kristan got his first shutout of the tournament, stopping all of Austria's 30 shots on goal.

Russia shuts out Norway, 4-0

While the score doesn't show it, Russia did not have an easy time against Norway. Russia did not play well early as their high-powered offense was shut out in the first period and only out-shot Norway, 7-6.

The heavily criticized Alexander Radulov finally got the hosts on the board with a backhander that beat Norway's goaltender Lars Haugen early in the second period. Ilya Kovalchuk doubled up the lead with his second goal of the tournament.

It took until the final minutes of the third period for the Russians to finally seal the victory against Norway. Radulov put in his second goal of the game with a empty netter and Alexi Tereschenko added one at 19:20 to make the final score, 4-0.

For a team that was supposed to be fueled by their home crowd, the Russians have not looked impressive at all and it seems that the pressure is affecting them. Their offense has been struggling, especially on the power play. Russia is tied for the third-worst power play of the tournament, converting just 12.5% of their man advantages. With the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, and Kovalchuck, you would think they would be much better.

While their offense has not lived up to the hype, luckily for the Russians, their goaltending has been outstanding. Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche) and Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets) are third and fourth respectively in save percentage in the Olympics.

Bobrovsky earned the shutout against Norway and saved 22 shots. It will be an intriguing and challenging decision for the Russian coaching staff on who they will start in net against Finland in their quarterfinal game.

Latvia upsets Switzerland, 3-1

The last time these two teams met, Switzerland needed a lucky bounce with just 7.9 seconds to play to squeak by heavy underdogs Latvia in the group stages.

In their second meeting, the Swiss received no help from lady luck as Latvia got the last laugh and beat Switzerland 3-1. Latvia earned their first win of the tournament and their first ever quarterfinals berth.

Coached by Buffalo Sabres' Ted Nolan, Latvia has been competitive in all their games, but were unable to find the winning formula. Fortunately, Latvia figured it out at the right time.

Oskars Bartulis and Lauris Darzins provided two goals in the first period, springing Latvia ahead 2-0 early. They were the first team to score on Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller (Anaheim Ducks), who has been outstanding all tournament.

Martin Pluss cut the lead in half late in the second period with first goal of the tournament. Switzerland got a great chance to tie it late when a shot caromed off Latvia's Bartulis shin pad, which sprung a breakaway for Reto Suri, but he could not beat Latvia's goalie Edgars Masalskis.

Darzins put the nail in the coffin with an empty netter for his second goal of the game with a minute left to play.

The Swiss were considered the second best team in the qualification round next to Russia, but they will be heading home thanks to their poor offensive production. They could not muster up more than one goal the whole tournament and it is shame as their defense and goaltending were exceptional.

Hiller allowed just two goals while facing 68 shots in the tournament and back-up Reto Berra of the Calgary Flames just let in one in 31 shots.

Latvia will now take on tournament favorites and defending gold medalists, Canada, in their quarterfinal match-up.

Czech Republic survives against Slovakia, 5-3

The Czech Republic looked like they had a quarterfinals berth in the bag after an early 4-0 lead against Slovakia. But sloppy play made the game closer than it should have, and they were able hold on to a 5-3 victory.

Roman Cervenka scored two goals for the Czechs to lead them to a quarterfinals date with the United States. The Czech Republic has made it to the quarterfinals in all of their six Olympic appearances since splitting from Czechoslovakia.

The first period was a very productive one for the Czech Republic as they piled on three goals. Ales Hemsky of the Edmonton Oilers opened up with a goal at 6:53 and Cervenka scored his first of two just 29 seconds later. David Krejci of the Boston Bruins rounded out the first period scoring with a power play goal at 17:03.

Cervenka then found pay dirt once again late in the second period to make it 4-0.

Slovakia's Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks finally woke up after a relatively quiet Olympics, scoring his first goal of the tournament with more than a minute left in the second period. Hossa then scored his second goal midway into the final period to cut the lead to 4-2.

Tomas Surovy made things tenser for the Czech Republic as he scored for Slovakia less than two minutes later to make it 4-3.

However, it was too little too late for Slovakia. Czech Republic's Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens added an empty netter to secure the win.

Winnipeg Jets' Ondrej Pavalec turned away 29 of 32 shots for the Czechs.

Tomorrow's Quarterfinal Schedule (from @NHLonNBCSports):

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