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Team USA Downs Czech Republic, Advances To Semifinals vs. Canada

By Chris Mason, 98.5 The SportsHub
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United States players celebrate following their 5-2 victory during the Men's Ice Hockey Quarterfinal Playoff at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on February 19, 2014. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

United States players celebrate following their 5-2 victory during the Men’s Ice Hockey Quarterfinal Playoff at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on February 19, 2014. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) - Team USA was dominant in their 5-2 defeat of the Czech Republic in their quarterfinal game, and they are proving to be the grittiest team in the tournament with their relentless two-way style of play.

It was clear from the opening faceoff that Team USA coach Dan Bylsma had a plan to counter Czech sniper Jaromir Jagr, and that plan was David Backes. In the illuminated rink, Jagr would see the physical Backes more than he saw his own shadow, and his obvious frustration with the match-up proved to be a microcosm for the game on a greater scale.

James van Reimsdyk opened the scoring for the Americans 1:39 into the contest, as he took a pass from Ryan Kesler and beat Czech Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec on a bad angle goal, feathering a puck passed the netminder on his short-side from the goal line to give the Americans a 1-0 lead.

Then, Ales Hemsky was credited with tying the game 1-1 at 4:31 of the period, but it was actually a product of Ryan McDonagh’s clearing attempt through a logjam in front of the net that ricocheted off of an American stick and over a slumping Jonathan Quick.

The draw would be short-lived however, as Backes took matters into his own hands at 14:38 of the period. The American center pick-pocketed Jagr in the neutral zone, skated the puck into the offensive end, beat a Czech defenseman, and rifled a shot on-goal that produced a tap-in rebound for teammate Dustin Brown.

Backes was seemingly rewarded by the hockey gods with a tap-in goal of his own, as a result of a heads- up play by teammate Ryan Suter. With time winding down in the first period, Suter threw a shot intentionally wide of the net that hit off the end-boards and landed right on Backes’ stick at the goalmouth. The American buried it with 1.8 seconds remaining and gave his squad a 3-1 lead heading into the dressing room.

Midway through the second period the Americans struck on the power play to make it 4-1. Joe Pavelski unleashed a rocket from the point that produced a rebound off the boards to Zach Parise, who buried the game’s third bad angle goal. Pavelec may have never seen it as a result of a nasty screen in front from Backes, but the netminder was pulled for Alexander Salak after stopping only 8 of 12 shots.

From there the USA coasted, with Phil Kessel and Ales Hemsky trading third period tallies. The second half of the game was championed by excellent team defense from the Americans. The Czechs were visibly frustrated with their inability to get shots past American defensemen and on goal, and this proved to be the theme of the game.

Boston Bruin David Krejci was among those frustrated Czechs, as the forward, with a penchant for coming up big in big moments, was uncharacteristically quiet. Krejci finished the game without a point and only notched a single shot on goal. His disappearance was a testament to the two-way play of the Americans.

With the win, Team USA advances to the Semifinals where they will face the universally acclaimed Canadians. This will undoubtedly be the Americans’ toughest challenge yet. However, their success in group play may pay dividends, because as a higher seed they’ve earned last change and will be able to utilize matching-up Backes against the Canadians’ top line.

If you’re a St. Louis Blues fan you’ll know that throughout his career Backes has done to Sidney Crosby exactly what he did to Jagr in this Quarterfinal. He’s frustrated him. Now we’ll see if that translates to the Olympic game.

Team USA and Canada will play at noon on Friday.

Chris Mason is an Intern for 98.5 The SportsHub

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