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Olympic playoff preview: Czechs and Slovaks put star power on display

Feb 17, 2014, 2:49 PM EDT

ZdenoChara Getty Images

The Game: No. 7 Czech Republic vs. No. 10 Slovakia. Tuesday, 12 p.m. ET at Shayba Arena.

How they got here: The Czechs had a dysfunctional opening round, winning just one in three tries amidst questionable player selection (see here), illness (see here and here) and a curious distribution of ice time (see here). But for as dysfunctional as the Czechs were, the Slovaks were equally disappointing — hammered 7-1 by the U.S. in the opener, then stunned by minnows Slovenia in their second game. Slovakia did manage to save face with a good effort against Russia in the finale, losing 1-0 in a shootout.

Who’s hot: Marek Zidlicky has been a major bright spot for the Czechs. He’s playing staggering minutes (26:28 TOI per game) and leads the team in points, with three. Zidlicky also shares the team goalscoring lead with Jaromir Jagr (two).

For the Slovaks, it’s goalie Jan Laco. Laco’s story is pretty neat — he came into the tournament as Slovakia’s No. 3 netminder, behind St. Louis’ Jaroslav Halak and Montreal’s Peter Budaj. But after Halak and Budaj (Halak especially) played poorly in the opening two games, head coach Vladimir Vujtek made the bold decision to play Laco, who didn’t even dress in the first two contests, against Russia in the final group affair.

Laco responded by stopping all 36 shots faced in regulation and overtime, before losing in the shootout. He’ll reportedly start against the Czechs.

Who’s not: Take your pick, really. There are a number of underachievers from both sides, but we’ll focus on a pair of forwards. For the Slovaks, Marian Hossa has worked extremely hard but has no goals and just one assist to show for it. For the Czechs, former 35-goal man Milan Michalek has been invisible, going pointless over three games while averaging a little over 12 minutes a night.

X-Factor: Star power. Mentioned in the headline, but it bears repeating — of the four opening playoff games, Czech Republic-Slovakia boasts significantly more NHLers that the rest, with some true stars in play. This is a key factor in single elimination games. The Slovaks haven’t been good defensively this tournament, but couldn’t that change in one night by, say, playing Chara close to 30 minutes?

  1. stepanup - Feb 17, 2014 at 3:04 PM

    That last line “couldn’t that change in one night by, say, playing Chara close to 30 minutes?” just made Claude Julien, Peter Chiarelli and most of all Cam Neely, more than a little nauceous. Matching Chara up with Krejci will be interesting to watch.

    My pick: Czech..Oh..Slovakia?

    Hard to have much of any confidence in either of these teams, but after double Czeching, I’m going with the Czech Republic.

  2. dhawks19 - Feb 17, 2014 at 3:08 PM

    That’s not punny

    • stepanup - Feb 17, 2014 at 3:26 PM

      I know, and I’m slightly ashamed of myself now. I’m just really bored at work today and couldn’t put my mind to anything better, and look what happened.

      But seriously, Chara getting 30 mins in the game and the Slovaks winning is the Bruins worst nightmare.

  3. lowenni - Feb 17, 2014 at 4:51 PM

    I think the biggest storyline for these two teams is a LACK of star power, not the few NHL stars there are combined between the two teams.

  4. paul621 - Feb 17, 2014 at 4:57 PM

    Czechoslovakia should reunite for Olympic purposes–that’d be a pretty good team!

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