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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Czechs Thwarted by a Khabibulin Wall

APRussian goalie Khabibulin stopping one of the 41 shots fired off by the Czechs on Wednesday. Russia's win set up a semifinal showdown with the Unied States on Friday.
SALT LAKE CITY -- Now maybe the fans will believe what the players have been saying all along: Any of the teams that made the men's Olympic ice hockey quarterfinals can win the gold.

Reigning champion the Czech Republic and previously unbeaten Sweden were sent packing Wednesday, as well as 1998 bronze medalist Finland, while Canada, the United States, Russia and surprise package Belarus all booked spots in the semifinals.

Russia knocked out the Czechs 1-0 in a rematch of the 1998 final and the United States beat Germany 5-0 to set up a semifinal showdown with the Russians on Friday, 22 years to the day after the "Miracle on Ice," when a bunch of unsung U.S. college students upset the Soviet Union in the semifinals on the road to gold.

Russia's Nikolai Khabibulin won the duel of the All-Star goaltenders, avenging the final of four years ago when the Czechs beat the Russians by the same 1-0 score behind great goaltending from Dominik Hasek.

"He played a fantastic game today," Hasek said of his counterpart. "He was always in a right position to stop the puck and I think all the Russian players have to thank him for their victory."

The Tampa Bay Lightning goalie, who turned down a chance to play for Russia in Nagano, was outstanding throughout the game, stopping 41 shots.

Maxim Afinogenov gave the Russians all the scoring they needed when he beat Hasek with a quick wrist shot from the edge of the face-off circle at 4:48 of the second period.

"I think I was lucky to score that goal, being at the right place at the right time," said Afinogenov, a former teammate of Hasek with the Buffalo Sabres.

The Czech goaltender agreed.











Laura Rauch / AP

Russia's Alexei Zhamnov, left, battling with Milan Hejduk in Provo on Wednesday.


"They just shot the puck from the blue line and it hit somebody in front of me, so I didn't see the puck as it went straight to him [Afinogenov]," said Hasek, who stopped the other 26 Russian shots. "It was just a lucky balance for them."

"I'm very proud of my team today. They beat the defending Olympic champions, they beat the best goalie in the world. It was just a great game for hockey," Russia coach Vyacheslav Fetisov said.

"In a short tournament like this, the total team commitment to defense wins games for you. I told my players before the game, 'Just win 1-0, that's enough.'"

The Czechs had most of the chances in the first 20 minutes, outshooting the Russians 16-8, but Khabibulin came up big for his team time and time again.

He was spectacular at the end of the first period and at the beginning of the second when the Czechs had a two-man advantage for over two minutes.

But the Russians regrouped following Afinogenov's goal.

Alexei Kovalev could have given his team a 2-0 lead midway through the second period when he skated all alone on Hasek, but his shot ranged off the crossbar.

The Czechs, who also hit the crossbar minutes later, applied pressure in the final 20 minutes, but could not solve Russia's goaltending.

After seeing Belarus upset Sweden the Americans were wary of falling into the same trap. They didn't, dominating from the opening faceoff and using a four-goal burst in the second period to blow the game open.

Once again doing much of the damage were the duo of Brett Hull and John LeClair, the team's top two scorers, with a goal and an assist each. Philadelphia Flyers forward Jeremy Roenick, Chicago Blackhawk Tony Amonte and Detroit Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios all scored as well.

After taking Monday's game against Belarus off, New York Rangers netminder Mike Richter returned to post the shutout. stopping all 28 shots he faced.

Canada continued to show it is progressing nicely toward a chance at its first gold medal since 1952 by beating Finland 2-1, while qualifier Belarus pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the sport's history, beating previously undefeated Sweden 4-3 to advance.

"We stood on our heads ... I really expected that Sweden would go to the gold medal game, or least the medal games," admitted Belarus goalie Andrei Mezin.

Belarus players may need to continue to stand on their heads if they are to beat Canada in their semifinal on Friday.