Tkachuk leads U.S. hockey past Russia

Posted: Wednesday, September 08, 2004

ST. PAUL, Minn. The United States again went with a younger lineup, but it was the veteran line of Keith Tkachuk, Mike Modano and Bill Guerin that played ageless hockey.

Tkachuk had four goals all assisted by Modano and added an assist as the Americans' top line accounted for 11 points and led the United States into the World Cup of Hockey semifinals with a 5-3 victory Tuesday night over Russia.

The St. Louis Blues forward normally the target of boos at the Minnesota Wild's Xcel Energy Center was the difference for the Americans, who avenged last week's loss to the Russians by eliminating them from the tournament.

''We went through a lull last week,'' Tkachuk said. ''We were tired, and when you're tired you cut corners. But these are elimination games and we're hitting our stride now.''

Just in time, too. The United States will play either Finland or the Czech Republic, who advanced from the European Division, on Friday night in St. Paul. Canada hosts Slovakia in Toronto on Wednesday with the final semifinal berth on the line.

After being outworked against Canada and Russia last week, the Americans beat struggling Slovakia 3-1, but still looked like the underdog against the Russians. But the roles reversed in the rematch, with Russia making costly turnovers that the suddenly opportunistic Americans jumped on.

''The biggest mistake we made is we're not playing practical hockey like the U.S. and Canada play,'' Russia's Oleg Tverdovsky said. ''That's why they're beating the European teams.''

After Russia made it 2-all with a quick goal in the third period, Tkachuk had a chance to score again after Russia's Dmitry Kalinin turned the puck over in the neutral zone. His shot deflected off a defender's stick, but Scott Gomez of the New Jersey Devils was there to punch a shot past goalie Ilya Bryzgalov at 4:25.

Just 22 seconds later, Guerin made a nice pass from the left circle to a cutting Tkachuk, who scored his fourth goal of the tournament to give the United States a 4-2 lead.

''That's where experience comes into play,'' Tkachuk said.

Russia pulled to 4-3 with 8:56 to play when Ilya Kovalchuk's slap shot from the left circle beat Robert Esche's glove during a four-minute power play. Russia couldn't convert on the second half of the advantage, created when Brian Leetch cut Dainius Zubrus in the face with a high stick.

The Americans played tight defense the rest of the way and Tkachuk added an empty netter with 54.7 seconds to play to seal the victory. Canada's Mario Lemieux also scored four goals in a game during the 1987 Canada Cup, the tournament that predated the World Cup.

''I've had four goals at some point in my NHL career, but tonight was special,'' the 32-year-old Tkachuk said.

Czech Republic 6, Sweden 1

STOCKHOLM, Sweden Milan Hejduk scored two goals as the Czech Republic routed Sweden 6-1 Tuesday night in the quarterfinals of the World Cup of Hockey.

The Czechs, who finished next-to-last in the European pool, will face either the United States or Canada in the semifinals when the tournament moves to North America this weekend.

The United States eliminated Russia and advanced to the semifinals with a 5-3 victory Tuesday night in St. Paul, Minn. Canada hosts Slovakia in Toronto on Wednesday with the final semifinal berth on the line.

Martin Straka, Martin Havlat, Marek Zidlicky and Radek Dvorak also scored for the Czechs, who led 5-0 before the Swedes pulled one back when playing short-handed late in the third period.

The Czechs quickly neutralized whatever home-ice advantage the Swedes hoped for and never looked back after taking a 2-0 lead in the first period. The Swedes managed only four shots on goalie Tomas Vokoun in the opening session and half of them came during the opening minutes.

The Czechs started the tournament with two straight losses, at Finland (4-0) and Sweden (4-3). But they showed improvement in the last period against Sweden, scoring three goals, and then trounced Germany 7-2 in the round-robin finale in Prague.

''It was an unbelievable game, and I'm very glad our guys showed what they can do,'' said Vladimir Ruzicka, who replaced Ivan Hlinka as coach after the former Pittsburgh Penguins coach died in an automobile accident in the Czech Republic on the eve of the tournament. ''They played with a lot of heart, and really showed the true face of this team.''

For Sweden, which lost on an overtime goal to Canada in the semifinals of the inaugural World Cup in 1996, it was one of the most bitter setbacks in international hockey. It came after losing two straight finals to Canada at the World Championships. And 2 1/2 years ago, there was a stunning loss to Belarus in the Olympic quarterfinals.

Going into these quarterfinals, Sweden had the most impressive offense with a tournament-leading 14 goals. The line of Fredrik Modin, who helped the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup last season, captain Mats Sundin and Daniel Alfredsson, had the top three scorers during the round-robin.

The Swedes' special teams, so impressive in the first three games when they went unbeaten against Germany, the Czechs and Finland, fizzled when it counted most. After clicking on eight of its 20 chances in round-robin play, the Swedes missed all four power-play opportunities Tuesday.

Markus Naslund, the Vancouver sniper who's been the NHL's top goal scorer the last two seasons, didn't get a goal in four tournament games.

Peter Forsberg, the MVP in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche in 2003, was also a disappointment, although his rustiness could be explained by stomach muscle surgery last month.

''They were a lot better,'' said Forsberg, who plays on the same NHL team as Hejduk. ''They were stronger in the neutral zone and always dangerous on the counterattack.''

Sundin agreed.

''They were better on everything,'' the Toronto captain said. ''They had better legs, they were better mentally and they fully deserved the win.''

The first two goals came after Swedish mistakes on the blue line.

Straka put the Czechs ahead on a two-on-one, skating in unchecked and beating goalie Mikael Tellqvist.

Havlat scored into an open net after Swedish defenseman Marcus Ragnarsson missed a pass in his end.

Another quick breakaway led to the third Czech goal, triggering boos from many of the fans at sold-out Globe Arena. After the Swedes lost the puck in the offensive end, Zidlicky finished a two-on-one by roofing a wrist shot past Tellqvist late in the second period.

Dvorak put the game away when he made it 4-0 at 8:17 of the third period. Hejduk scored his first before Tomas Holmstrom scored short-handed for Sweden two minutes later. Hejduk finished the scoring with an empty-netter with 1:45 remaining after Sweden pulled Tellqvist for an extra attacker.

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