Czech Republic Advances to Olympic Hockey 2018 Semifinal in Shootout Win vs. USA

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2018

Czech Republic's Lukas Radil (L), USA's Chad Billins (R) and others chase the puck during the men's quarterfinals playoffs ice hockey match between Czech Republic the United States during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung on February 21, 2018.   / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images

The Czech Republic is two wins away from the gold medal in the men's hockey tournament at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, thanks to a dramatic quarterfinal win over the United States.

The Czechs needed a shootout to advance after the battle remained tied at two through regulation and overtime, and Petr Koukal was the only one to find the back of the net for either team in the shootout. Czech Republic goaltender Pavel Francouz needed just the one goal, as he turned away every American attempt and outdueled counterpart Ryan Zapolski in the showdown that aired live Tuesday in the United States.

The victors will face the winner of the clash between the Olympic Athletes from Russia and Norway in the semifinals.

The Czech Republic is yet to lose in these Olympics and was in control for extended stretches of Tuesday's contest despite the nail-biting finish. It enjoyed a 29-20 advantage in shots on goal, per NBC Olympics, and Jan Kolar (first period) and Tomas Kundratek (second period) each capitalized on those shots with goals.

Ryan Donato added another goal for the Americans, while Jim Slater scored the final goal of regulation in the second period, which ultimately forced overtime after a stalemate in the third.

This quarterfinal marked a clash of styles, as Scott Charles of NBC Sports described. The Americans—which had to beat Slovakia just to have the opportunity to face a fresh Czech Republic side—use "several speedy forwards in order to play an uptempo style, while the Czechs look to clog up the neutral zone and slow things down."

It looked as if the Americans would set the tone with their style of play when Donato's lighting-quick flick of the wrist broke the scoreless tie. Francouz was essentially helpless, considering he was screened by his own defenders, as Donato continued his Olympic dominance with his fifth goal of the Games.

However, the Czechs established their own preferred pace for the rest of the opening 20 minutes, holding the Red, White and Blue to a mere seven shots on goal and easily killing a late power play with a stifling defensive effort.

They mixed in timely offense as well when Kolar fired a one-timer off a faceoff win in the attacking zone right past Zapolski to tie the game.

The Czech Republic largely took over the game in the second period, which it started with a power play. While it didn't score during its two power plays in the first four minutes of the period, the man advantages helped it dictate the pace and prevent the Americans from building any consistent offensive momentum.

Kundratek's slap shot gave the Czechs the lead, and things looked particularly precarious for the United States when it gave up another penalty less than 40 seconds after the goal.

Instead of letting frustration build, Brian O'Neill used his speed to reach a loose puck and fed Slater on a breakaway for a massive shorthanded goal to not only stop the bleeding but also tie the game for good until the shootout.

O'Neill nearly played hero when he drilled the post on a late counterattack, and his team will surely rue the failed power-play opportunity it had for the final 80 seconds of regulation and first 40 seconds of overtime.

Francouz was not to be beaten with the game hanging in the balance in the third period and overtime, though, and the Czech Republic will await its next opponent as it looks to continue its undefeated march in the medal rounds.

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