VANCOUVER – Just by the hair on their chinny-chin-chin did Canada survive the Slovakia scare tonight by a 3-2 score. Patrick Marleau, Brenden Morrow, and Ryan Getzlaf scored to send Canada on its way to victory in the semi-finals at Canada Hockey Place.Click here for the photo gallery of the game.
Team Canada is now one Sunday matinee win away from meeting the colossal expectations of the nation, but it will have to go through preliminary round nemesis United States to win that cherished gold medal.
The scenario is exactly the same as it was eight years ago in Salt Lake City when the two countries’ women’s team faced off for gold as a preview to the men’s final on February 24, 2002.
Slovakia, meanwhile, will face Finland for bronze on Saturday night.
"We still have a great chance tomorrow," Marian Hossa said. "We just have to regroup because today was a really tough game. It would be a dream come true if we got third place."
What seemed like a routine 3-0 lead after 40 minutes turned tense when goalie Roberto Luongo looked weak on a couple of shots in the later stages of the third to make things more than a little uncomfortable for Canada.
Slovakia was a team unlike any other Canada had faced. It had the skill of the Czechs and the ability to play a tight, defensive game to perfection. As a result, play was tentative and choppy for several minutes and marked by several giveaways and bad decisions both ways. By the midway point, though, Canada started to skate and find a little more room with and without the puck.
The home side got the first goal at 13:30 on a nice series of passes inside the Slovakia end. Dany Heatley did the work along the boards and got the puck back to the point for Scott Niedermayer, and he whipped a pass across to Weber at the other point. Weber snapped a quick shot a the goal, and Patrick Marleau deftly deflected the puck down between Halak’s pads to give the Canadians the all-important first goal after video review confirmed it was not with a high stick that the puck was deflected.
Canada made it 2-0 less than two minutes later on a similar play. Ryan Getzlaf made a great play to get the puck back to Chris Pronger at the point, and he got off a quick snap shot immediately which was again tipped in front, this time by Brenden Morrow.
The second period repeated the first as Slovakia seemed content to play a very conservative game despite trailing by two, and Canada had difficulty generating speed out of its own end or creating scoring chances off the rush. It was close and hard hitting, but it was hardly the speedy poetry of the Canada-Russia game.
The only goal of the period came at 16:54 on a power play. A shot by Corey Perry was blocked in front and Getzlaf, as he was falling, swiped a backhand over Halak to give the fans something to cheer about.
A minute later Slovakia had its best chance to score off a bad giveaway in centre ice. Zigmund Palffy walked in alone, but as he was chased down he let go a snap shot that Luongo closed the pads on.
Slovakia got back in the game at 11:35 of the third when Lubomir Visnovsky banked a shot off Luongo on the near post from almost behind the red line.
"He was behind the net," said Luongo. "It was a tough angle. It hit the post off my pad and went in. It is not something I wanted to happen but things do happen and you have to stay composed."
The Slovaks got their second at 15:07 when Michal Handzus batted a puck over Luongo after he failed to cover a shot on another wraparound, this from Richard Zednik. After that, mayhem ensued and the Slovaks nearly tied it in the final minute and Halak on the bench.
Said Morrow: "We wanted to keep our foot on the gas going into the third. We just took it off a little bit, and they sensed it and jumped on it. They battled down for pucks in dangerous areas and got some breaks."
"You have to give Canada credit," Hossa said. "This is one of the best teams I've ever played against. They are just great players. It's not easy to play against them."
Canada now advances to the gold-medal game to face the Americans, a team it lost to, 5-3, during the preliminary round. This will be a fast, physical game that promises to be a classic.
"The Americans are going to come out hard," said Perry. "They're a hard, forechecking team, and they like to play kind of the same style we like to play. We'll have to be ready."
Pronger echoed these sentiments: "We've gotten to the gold medal game, but it's far from over. Obviously the U.S. is playing well, with a lot of confidence. Their goalie is playing very well. We've got to play our best game of the tournament to win."