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U.S. beats Czechs, will play Canada in semifinal men’s hockey

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SOCHI, Russia — Dustin Brown banged in a go-ahead goal late in the first period and the United States went on to dominate the Czech Republic 5-2 Wednesday, earning a spot in the Olympic hockey semifinals for the second straight time.

On Friday, the U.S. will play Canada — a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game — for a shot to become an Olympic champion. The Canadians held off Latvia 2-1, and they beat the Americans in overtime four years ago.

“It’s a great opportunity,” American forward Max Pacioretty said. “They’re obviously the favorite coming into the tournament, and we’ve opened up a lot of eyes with our play, but we have more in the tank to give and to show.

“We keep getting better every game and hopefully we’ll keep getting better after this one.”

James van Riemsdyk gave the Americans a lead 1:39 into the game.

They lost it a few minutes later when one of their defenseman, Ryan McDonagh, tried to clear the puck away from the front of the crease and it went off the left skate of Ryan Suter and got past Jonathan Quick.

The Czechs were not as successful scoring on their own against Quick, who started ahead of 2010 silver-medal winning goaltender Ryan Miller and had 21 saves.

Ales Hemsky was credited with a goal that two Americans touched after he did. Hemsky legitimately scored his second one, skating to the slot and snapping off a wrist shot that got past Quick’s blocker with 7 minutes left in the game.

Brown put the U.S. up 2-1 at the 14:38 mark of the first, and David Backes made it 3-1 with 1.8 seconds in the period.

Zach Parise piled on, pushing the Americans’ lead to 4-1 midway through the second period to chase goalie Ondrej Pavelec after he made just eight saves. He was replaced by Alexander Salak.

The Americans shaped their roster with players who skate fast, hit hard, share the puck and score.

The U.S. has been tested only once in a 3-2, eight-round shootout against the host Russians in the preliminary round. The Americans have crushed the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia by a combined score of 17-4.

Canada 2, Latvia 1

Shea Weber scored a tiebreaking power-play goal with 6:54 to play, and Canada survived an enormous scare from Latvia to advance.

Carey Price made 15 saves for the defending Olympic champion Canadians, who were stretched to the limit by Latvia goalie Kristers Gudlevskis.

The 21-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning prospect made 55 saves in a spectacular performance, nearly pulling one of the biggest upsets in hockey history largely by himself.

But Weber unleashed his peerless slap shot late in a power play, and Canada finally took the lead on its 54th shot against Gudlevskis.

One night after Latvia recorded its first Olympic victory in 12 years to reach its first quarterfinals, Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan’s team improbably tested the champs.

Lauris Darzins scored a breakaway goal in the first period for Latvia, which lost all three of its preliminary-round games before surprising Switzerland 3-1 on Tuesday to advance for the first time. The Baltic nation of 2 million people has been in the last four Olympic fields after a 66-year absence, but hadn’t won a game since 2002.

With just one current NHL player, Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons, and 41-year-old captain Sandis Ozolinsh leading the way, Latvia nearly did even better than fellow underdog Slovenia, which also reached the quarterfinals in Sochi before losing to Sweden.

Gudlevskis, who has mostly played for Syracuse in the AHL this season, mostly stymied the powerful Canadian offense with his scrambling, alert style.

Patrick Sharp scored in the first period for the Canadians, who cruised unbeaten through the preliminary round with three victories. Canada also lost forward John Tavares to injury in the second period.

Canada, which has won two of the last three Olympic tournaments, is the first defending Olympic champion to return to the semifinals since the current Olympic format was introduced in 1992. Nobody has won back-to-back gold medals in Olympic hockey since the Soviet Union in 1984 and 1988, although a unified team of former Soviet republics won the title in 1992 as well.

Canada forward John Tavares will miss the rest of the Olympics with a leg injury.

Finland 3, Russia 1

Finland eliminated Russia from the tournament with a win, putting a stunning end to the Russians’ enormous expectations at home.

Teemu Selanne scored an early goal and Tuukka Rask made 37 saves as Finland crushed the Russians’ dreams of winning hockey gold medals in front of their own fans. Russian teams have won eight gold medals in hockey, but none in the last 22 years. Selanne and Mikael Granlund each had a goal and an assist for the steady Finns. Finland meets Sweden in the other semifinal on Friday.

Despite its roster of high-priced offensive stars, Russia couldn’t score in the final 52 minutes after Ilya Kovalchuk’s early power-play goal.

Sweden 5, Slovenia 0

Henrik Lundqvist made 19 saves for his second shutout of the Sochi Games and Carl Hagelin scored twice, helping Sweden rout upstart Slovenia.

The 2006 Olympic champions are the only team to win all four of its games in regulation in what has been quite a feat without Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Sedin and Johan Franzen.

The short-handed Swedes ended a feel-good story, eliminating Slovenia in its first Olympic hockey tournament.

Alexander Steen broke a scoreless tie 18:50 into the game.

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