Thursday, May 5, 2011

Jágr and Pavelec lead Czechs to victory over Finland

The Czechs passed their first big test at the 2011 World Championship in Bratislava, beating Finland 2-1. The win put them on top of their group and sets them up in good standing for the Qualification Round. More than that, however, were some encouraging signs in the win, with some of the team's concerns being addressed.

Jaromír Jágr scored the game-winning goal against Finland. Photo:
Matthew Manor, HHOF-IIHF Images.
To begin with, they finally got a goal from Jaromír Jágr. After putting up 6 points in 3 games in the Czech Hockey Games the weekend before the World Championships, Jágr had been shut out in the first 2 games in Bratislava.

Before the game, Jágr told's David Schlegel, "So far there has not been any need to earn points. I will start when it is needed." He backed up that statement against Finland, scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal early in the third period when he scooped in a rebound over a fallen Petri Vehanen to put the Czechs up 2-0.

They also got a stellar goaltending performance from Ondřej Pavelec. "Our goalie Pavelec had a fantastic game and we probably wouldn't have won without him," understated Czech defenceman Lukáš Krajiček after the game.

Some Czech fans were nervous about the team's goaltending situation after Tomáš Vokoun announced he wouldn't be playing. However, Pavelec has aquitted himself well so far in his first major tournament as the team's starting keeper. He picked up his third-straight win on Wednesday, following up his shutout over Denmark with a remarkable 32-save performance.

His best save of the night may have been off Tuomo Ruutu in the second period, when the Finns were threatening on the power-play and Pavelec appeared to be down and out after stopping the first shot and in no position to stop the rebound. He recovered, however, to make a pad save and preserve the 1-0 lead. Pavelec was just 19 seconds away from recording back-to-back shutouts when Anssi Salmela beat him with a shot from the point to get Finland on the board.

The top three teams in Groups A and D now combine together to form Group E, with the bottom team in each group, Slovenia and Latvia, heading to the Relegation Round. The Czechs carry their victories over Denmark and Finland to the next round and currently tied for first place in the Group with Germany; each team has 6 points. They are followed by Finland and Russia with 3 points each, while Slovakia and Denmark are both pointless. The top four advance to the quarterfinals.

The Czechs open the Qualifying Round, as it is called, on Friday at 20:15 CET against the tournament hosts from Slovakia. They then play Russia on Sunday at 16:15 and Germany on Monday at 20:15.

Each team is permitted to add two players to its roster for the Qualifying Round, and on Thursday the Czechs added defenceman Ondřej Němec. This means they can now dress the maximum of 20 skaters on Friday. They had been one below that for the past two games due to the injury to defenceman Radek Martínek, who is out of the tournament with a concussion and a neck injury. They could still add one more.

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