Krejci, Czechs Barely Escape Upset, Face Finland Tonight

Doug GausepohlCorrespondent IFebruary 24, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 23:  David Krejci #46 of Czech Republic is congratulated by teammates after scoring the matchwinning goal in overtime during the ice hockey Men's Play-off qualification match between the Czech Republic and Latvia on day 12 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at UBC Thunderbird Arena on February 23, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

When David Krejci beat Latvian goalie Edgars Masalskis with a wrister halfway through the overtime period, the Czech Republic team didn't display any type of exuberant celebration.  In fact, they seemed more relieved than happy about the win.

Relieved they didn't let bottom-seeded Latvia stun them, when it seemed all but in the bag after the Czech Republic had a 2-0 lead midway through the first period.

After Tomas Fleischmann scored to make it 2-0, the Czechs might have sat back a bit.  And honestly, it worked for a while.  There were no goals scored from nine minutes left in the first period until just under eight minutes left in the third, when Latvia finally broke through.

Four minutes later, they scored again thanks to Mikelis Redlihs and some lively boards.  And all of a sudden, the Czech Republic was on edge, and Latvia could smell blood.  You could see the difference in the Czechs play after the tying goal; it certainly woke them up. 

Those same lively boards almost cost the Czech Republic the game in overtime, as a shot that went wide hit off the boards and hurtled directly at Tomas Vokoun's left pad.  Luckily for the Czech Republic (and Tomas Vokoun's livelihood) the puck bounced off Vokoun and went wide of the net. 

Easy to laugh about it now, but the laughter won't last long.  Team Finland awaits the Czech Republic tonight, and the Czechs know if they perform like they did last night, it'll be the last game they play. 

"The way we played today we can't play tomorrow," Krejci told , fresh off his game-winning heroics.  "So I would prefer to forget this game and move forward."

When even the guy that won the game says he wants to forget it, you know it was a bad night. 

Ultimately, the Czech Republic won the game, which is the most important thing.  Awaiting them is Finland, who went 2-1 in Group C pool play (won against Belarus and Germany, lost to Sweden), good enough to earn them a first-round bye.

Finland looks to have the edge early.  They've had three days off, while the Czech team needed every ounce of energy to squeeze a win out of Latvia last night.  Expect Finland to come out skating hard and firing pucks at the net, and the outcome of the game might largely weigh on how, and if, the Czech Republic responds.

Finland will be missing a key piece as defenseman Joni Pitkanen is suspended for this game due to his ghastly hit on Patric Hornqvist against Sweden. 

The Czech Republic may be missing a huge piece, as Jaromir Jagr left in the middle of last night's game with neck stiffness.  Head coach Vladimir Ruzicka told he "believes" Jagr will be ready, and I'd have to imagine unless Jagr can't move his neck, he'll be in this game and play through the pain.

Both teams are coming off disappointing performances.  One team will be even more disappointed after tonight, while another will be heading to the semifinals to face either the USA or Switzerland. 

The rested Finns or the battle tested Czechs?  Take your pick.