By Dory LeBlanc
In a rematch of the gold medal game four years ago, Team U.S.A. will face their northern rivals, Team Canada, on Friday in the Olympics semifinals in Sochi.
James van Riemsdyk kept the Americans' M.O. of jumping out to an early lead intact, scoringt 1:39 into the contest, but a lull in the defensely allowed the Czechs to counter roughly three minutes later. The goal initially looked to go in off of U.S. defenseman Ryan McDonagh, but Milan Michalek takes the official credit with the equalizer.
With 5:22 to go in the opening period, Dustin Brown took a an outstanding feed from David Backes and sent it easily into a wide open net to put the U.S. up 2-1 (see tweet below for Backes' pass).
With less than two seconds remaining, Backes added to his impressive first period, putting the American up by a pair after taking a Ryan Suter rebound from the boards and sending the puck past a sprawling Ondrej Pavelec.
Trailing 3-1, the Czech Republic fought hard through much of the beginning of the second period, forcing Jonathan Quick to make quality saves and by controlling the puck much more than they did in the first and playing the U.S. more aggressively. That aggression paid off for Team U.S.A. however, as Zach Parise put the Americans up 4-1 on a power play after Zbynek Michalek sat out for interference.
Following the captain's goal, Czech head coach Alois Hadamczik opted to pull Pavelec in favor of Alexander Salak.
The speed of Team U.S.A. has given their opponents fits this tournament and Wednesday was no exception. 2:01 into the third period, the rush was on until Ryan Kesler slowed the pace enough to get off a perfect pass that put the puck on Phil Kessel's stick who put the breaks on at the crease and jammed it home for a four-goal lead.
With the victory likely in hand, the U.S. slowed their play and looked lethargic at times and several shots went wide of the net throughout the remainder of the tilt.
At 13:00 of the third, the Edmonton Oilers' Ales Hemsky brough a gleam of hope back to the Czechs, when he fired a shot past Quick to cut into the Americans' lead.
With a minute and a half left to go, Backes almost notched another point, but Blake Wheeler couldn't settle the pass on his backhand and the U.S. would skate into the semis with the 5-2 final over the Czech Republic.
GIF: An unreal feed from David Backes sets up Dustin Brown's go-ahead goal http://t.co/pQqpJkjoXj— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) February 19, 2014