May 19, 2012

Chara, Satan help underdog Slovaks reach gold medal game

By Jesse Connolly

Former Bruin Miroslav Satan tallied twice on Saturday, leading Slovakia to a 3-1 victory over the Czech Republic in the IIHF World Championship semifinals. 

Miroslav Satan has four goals in nine tournament games heading into the finals at the World Championship on Sunday. (Getty Images)

The 37-year-old winger opened the scoring 15:52 into the contest to stake his squad to a 1-0 lead, but Michal Frolik’s goal 45 seconds into the second period knotted things up.

At the 19:20 mark of the middle frame, Slovakia's Mario Bliznak went to the box for tripping. The Czech Republic’s power-play time carried over into the third, but it was the Slovaks that found the back of the net. Satan broke in alone on Jakub Kovar and buried a shorthanded goal to make it 2-1. Libor Hudacek notched his second goal of the tournament less than four minutes later to give Slovakia a two-goal lead.

Netminder Jan Laco stopped all 15 shots he faced in the third period and finished the game with 36 saves. Through nine games, he sports a superb 1.75 goals-against average.

After the game, Satan talked about coming into the World Championship as decided underdogs and how surprised everyone has been by Slovakia’s success.

“It’s a little bit unbelievable that we’re going to have a medal in this tournament,” Satan told IIHF.com. “Going into this tournament we were not favored and nobody believed in this team, not even some fans back home. Now after so many great games – I think we have six or seven in a row that we’ve won, which is unexpected – I credit it to the great teamwork we had in this tournament. We’re still alive, still playing and tomorrow we have the big final, which is great.”

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who also wears the ‘C’ for the Slovaks, also played a big part in helping them get there.

The 6-foot-9 defenseman had a game-high 26:27 of playing time and did not leave the ice at any point in the final three minutes of the contest. He finished the game with a plus-2 rating and now sports a team-best, plus-6 rating in the tournament.

On the flip side, B’s center David Krejci’s dominant showing at the dot went to waste in the loss, as the Czech pivot won 9-of-12 (75%) faceoffs. Krejci and the Czechs will face Finland in the bronze medal game on Sunday.

The Slovaks, meanwhile, will square off with a juggernaut Russian squad that features Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin tallied and Malkin – who leads all players with 18 points -- had a hat trick in Russia’s 6-2 win over Finland in the semis.

Sunday’s championship is a rematch of the 2002 gold medal game when Slovakia defeated Russia by a score of 4-3. That was the only time the Slovaks won a gold medal in the World Championship. They took bronze in 2003 but have not medaled since. Russia is seeking its third gold medal in the last five years.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.