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WJC: No margin for error in quarterfinals

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TSN.ca Staff
1/2/2012 12:18:08 PM
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The medal round opens today at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Calgary, with Finland playing Slovakia right now in one quarterfinal, and Russia facing the Czech Republic in the other later tonight. Both games can be seen live on TSN, TSN.ca and TSN Mobile TV. The winners advance to the semifinals, while the losers are knocked out of medal contention.

Finland and Slovakia are playing now, with the winner getting a date with Sweden in the semifinals on Tuesday.

Finland was 3-1 in the round robin, with their only loss coming against the unbeaten Canadians. Since getting drubbed 8-1 by the hosts, Finland looked impressive in three straight wins, beating the United States 4-1, thumping Denmark 10-1 and then blanking a solid Czech team 4-0.

Teemu Pulkkinen leads Finland with five goals and eight points. Highly-touted brothers Mikael and Markus Granlund have combined for 11 points.

Slovakia made the medal round with a stirring 6-4 win over Switzerland in their final round-robin game, coming from two down in the third period to advance.

It's been an up and down tournament for the Slovaks, though. They were relatively unimpressive in a 3-1 win over Latvia and got shelled 9-1 by the Swedes, but played Russia tough in a 3-1 loss. Then after looking like a beaten team for two periods, Slovakia had the big finish to top the Swiss and avoid relegation.

Scoring has been tough for Slovakia, which got six of their 11 goals in one game. Only two players have more than one goal -- Matus Chovan is the team's top scorer with three goals.

When these teams met in last year's tournament, Finland won 6-0.

Russia and the Czech Republic get the second quarterfinal started at 9pm et/6pm pt. Canada will be watching closely, as the winner will face the host squad in Tuesday's semifinals.

If history is any indication, the Czechs will be in tough. Russia has won seven straight meetings in this tournament since the Czechs last win in January of 2000.

Aside from 20 crucial minutes against Sweden, the Russians have been a dominant force in this tournament. They have the tournament's best powerplay (45%), and have been a perfect 20-for-20 on the penalty kill. They have the best save percentage (.968) and two players tied for the tournament scoring lead (Nikita Gusev and Yevgeni Kuznetsov are tied with Mark Stone of Canada with nine points).

After beating Switzerland 3-0 and Latvia 3-1, Russia unloaded on Latvia with a 14-0 whitewash. In the final round-robin game against Sweden, and with first place in Group A up for grabs, Russia held a 3-0 leading heading into the third period. The Russians, though, crumbled under relentless Swedish pressure and fell 4-3 in overtime.

This is the fifth straight year Russia has been forced to play a quarterfinal game. They are 3-1 in the last four, the only loss coming against Switzerland in 2010.
The last time the Czechs won a quarterfinal game was 2005, but they are a dangerous team. They were 2-2 in the round-robin, with big losses to Canada and Finland balanced against big wins over Denmark and the United States.

They have a fairly balanced attack with three players having counted three goals (Petr Holik, Thomas Hertl and Tomas Filippi). That being said, no player has more than three points.

Petr Mrazek has played all four games in goal and has a 2.75 GAA and a save percentage of .917 for the Czechs.

They have also taken more penalties than any team in the tournament, something the Czechs will want to curb against the Russians and their top-rated powerplay.

Earlier today, Switzerland beat Denmark 4-3 in overtime, clinching a spot in the top group next year.


Slovakia celebrates (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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