Four Montreal Canadiens will take part in win or go home games tomorrow at the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Preliminary Round is complete, and after a day off today, the bottom eight teams will take part in the Qualification Round.
The four winning teams will move on to play Wednesday in the Quarterfinals, and the teams that lose tomorrow will have come to the end of the Olympic Games.
Two Canadiens will go head to head, at least their teams will, when the Czech Republic faces Slovakia. Tomas Plekanec will be front and center for the Czech’s, while Peter Budaj is likely to be scratched for the Slovakian side.
Plekanec leads the Czech Republic team in ice time and as their captain. The team has struggled to score in the Preliminary Round, but Plekanec is second on the roster in points, albeit with just two assists.
The Czech’s started the tournament against Sweden and found themselves behind 4-0 before they could introduce themselves to their new linemates. A bounce back in the second half of the game would make the score respectable, but they could not mount a comeback in the third and ultimately lost 4-2. Plekanec had an assist on Jaromir Jagr’s goal that brought them within two.
With Sweden in the rearview mirror, the Czech’s took on Latvia and were able to squeeze by with a 4-2 victory. With the game tied at one late in the second period, Plekanec once again combined with Jagr and gave the Czech Republic a 2-1 lead with 30 seconds to go in the middle frame. The Czech’s would score another pair in the third period, and in their best offensive game of the tournament, put up four against the 11th ranked team in the 12 team field.
In their preliminary finale, Plekanec’s team took on a great defensive team in Switzerland and were unable to find the back of the net. A win would have given the Czech’s second in their group and a favorable matchup in the Qualification Round, but Jonas Hiller pitched a shutout and the Swiss won 1-0.
The 1-2-0 record from the Czech Republic gave them three points and had them finish seventh in the overall standings. This has them facing the tenth place team in the Qualification Round, and that happens to be the other half of the former Czechoslovakia.
Slovakia started out the tournament getting trounced by the United States 7-1 and then losing to Slovenia, who had never won an Olympic game in their history. It was a pretty disappointing start to the tournament, but Slovakia played a much better game, thanks to previously unheard of goaltender Jan Laco, against the host Russia, but would lose 1-0 in a shootout.
Detroit Red Wing youngsters Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar are the only Slovaks to have scored a goal, and former Canadien Jaroslav Halak has been demoted from starting status after being lit up by the USA and losing to Slovenia.
The Slovak struggles are a bit of a surprise as they were in the Bronze Medal Game at the 2010 games in Vancouver. However, they are ripe for the picking for Plekanec and the Czech Republic in the Qualification game tomorrow. Plekanec will be counted on to bring more offense to the table to carry the Czech’s into the Quarterfinal.
The winner of this game will face a tough test in the final eight, as they will take on the United States. The U.S. finished second in the overall standings, having easily defeated Slovakia and Slovenia, and toping Russia in a dramatic shootout.
A lot has been made of the Czech Republic’s poor roster choices for this tournament and their decisions throughout the first three games. If we see less Roman Cervenka and Tomas Kaberle against Slovakia, we will be seeing a lot more of the Czech Republic as this tournament goes along.