By Josh Ferguson
The last two teams to open their 2010 tournaments gave the crowd at Canada Hockey Place the best hockey yet as Jaromir Jagr led the Czech Republic to a 3-1 win over Slovakia in Group B action Wednesday night.
The game opened with a furious pace as the teams exchanged scoring chances in a back-and-forth battle that saw the two squads collect 10 shots apiece.
The Czechs established the lead with the period’s lone goal midway through the first when team captain Patrik Elias deflected a point shot from Miroslav Blatak past Slovak keeper Jaroslav Halak.
Slovakia would knot things up just 47 seconds into the middle frame when Marian Gaborik, who was not expected to play in Game 1, showed that a gash on his leg would not hinder his hands as he ripped a snap shot over the shoulder of Czech ‘tender Tomas Vokoun.
Marian Hossa, who was also questionable to play before the game, set up the Gaborik goal.
Hossa quickly went from hero to goat when he rang one off the post and then turned the puck over in the neutral zone seconds later to Roman Cervenka who dished the puck off to Jagr for a partial breakaway. Jagr made no mistake on the scoring chance and beat Halak five-hole to take a 2-1 lead.
After going 0-for-5 on its previous opportunities with the man advantage, the Czech Republic finally capitalized on a Zdeno Chara hooking minor when Tomas Plekanec made a one-handed stab at a loose puck that flipped over a sprawling Halak to make it 3-1.
Jagr, whose goal proved to be the game-winner, picked up an assist on the power play marker to cap off a two-point night.
Vokoun was sensational for the Czechs down the stretch of Game 1 by stopping all 12 shots he faced in the third period to solidify the victory. He finished the game with 34 saves on 35 shots. At the other end, Halak turned aside 21 of the 24 shots he faced.
The Czech Republic finished the game 1-for-6 on the power play, while Slovakia went 0-for-4 with the man advantage.
Next up for the Czech Republic (1-0) is Latvia Friday, while the Slovaks (0-1) get right back at it Thursday night against the Russians.