COLOGNE – Jan Marek scored the shootout winner to give the Czechs a 3-2 win over Sweden and a place in tomorrow’s gold-medal game for the first time since 2006. The Swedes will play for bronze earlier in the day.
The game went into overtime only because of a Karel Rachunek goal with 7.5 seconds left in regulation, a goal that sucked the air out of Sweden's lungs and gave the Czechs new hope for their first gold medal since 2005.
Marek's winner in the shootout was as close as they come. He deked Jonas Gustavsson and slipped the puck between the goalie's pads, and it squeaked through, bounced off the post, and barely rolled over the line.
Lukas Kaspar (CZE) and Linus Omark (SWE) had scored earlier in the shootout, and goalie Tomas Vokoun stopped Tony Mårtensson with Sweden's final attempt to seal the victory.
"It's obviously a great feeling," said goalie Tomas Vokoun. "We struggled in the Preliminary Round and almost didn't make it. We were in a must-win situation against Canada, and if we lost, we would have gone home. We've been playing elimination round-style hockey ever since we lost to Norway. That put us in a very bad spot. We've beaten some very good teams, and now we've beaten Sweden twice."
The Swedes struck first at 8:29 on their third power play of the period. They moved the puck around to set Erik Karlsson up with a point shot, and his high blast hit Tomas Vokoun, who lost sight of the puck. It landed in the crease, and Johan Harju was the first to spot it. He rammed it in for the early 1-0 lead. Earlier they had failed to capitalize on a five-on-three.
In typical Swedish fashion, most of the period passed without much happening, Tre Kronor were the masters of playing with the lead. They got a rude awakening, however, at 17:28 on a weak goal allowed by Jonas Gustavsson. Tomas Mojzis fired a weak shot from the point which slipped under the blocker of the goalie, so despite allowing just five Czech shots all period, teams headed to the dressing rooms in a 1-1 game.
Buoyed by the late goal in the first, the Czechs came out and skated their way to superiority, generating the better scoring chances and drawing the only three penalties of the period. The Swedes were perfect on the penalty kill, however, and midway through the period got the go-ahead goal.
It came on a quick play when Tony Mårtensson got the puck behind the Czech net and passed in front to Andreas Engqvist. His quick shot beat Vokoun over the glove at 11:25. Moments later, Gustavsson made his best stop of the game on a hard shot in the slot from Miroslav Blatak. Gustavsson got his shoulder in the way.
The Swedes regained momentum and were the better team again in the last half of the period, generating the only other great scoring chances. Niklas Persson had an awkward backhand at the end of a three-on-one, but a sprawling Vokoun made a great stop. Later, Harju had another gear chance on an odd-man rush but couldn’t beat Vokoun with a great shot.
Lukas Kaspar and Jaromir Jagr had a couple of great scoring chances in the third, but Gustavsson was that much better. The game boiled down to a tense final 1:45 with Vokoun on the bench. The Swedes killed trhe clock until one final faceoff in their end with 14 seconds left to play.
The puck came behind the Swedish goal and through a scrum of players came loose in the high slot. Karel Rachunek walked into a thundering slapshot that whizzed by the stick side of Gustavsson to tie the game with just 7.5 seconds left on the clock.
"I've been playing hockey for a long, long time, and this happens maybe once or twice in your career," Vokoun offered.
The ten-minute sudden-death overtime was by turns breath-taking and mistake-filled, but scorers missed great chances and both goalies came up with big saves. Perhaps the highlight of the extra period was a muffed point shot by Victor Hedman that turned into a breakaway for Karel Rachunek, who was then chased down by the desperate Hedman before Rachunek could let go a shot.
"Two weeks ago, nobody gave us a chance," Jagr said. "I'm so happy for these guys. Now we're going to the final."
And the Swedes have to rally overnight if they are to win bronze. "We've played a good tournament," said Hedman, "and it would feel lousy to go back home without a medal. We'll do or best to get one, especially for Bengt-Åke (Gustafsson) who's in his last tournament."