Miroslav Satan scored 8:41 into the third period and Zdeno Chara assisted on a first-period goal by Marian Gaborik to help Slovakia stave off an upset-minded Norway squad 4-3 on Wednesday night and advance to a quaterfinal matchup with Sweden on Thursday.
Gaborik also added an assist, and a shaky Jaroslav Halak (16 saves) calmed down just in time to make some key saves in the waning minutes to preserve the victory.
The Slovaks are going to need a much more concerted effort if they hope to get by the experienced, defending gold medal champion Sweden, which shut out two of its first three opponents in this tournament and has outscored the opposition 9-2.
The Slovaks, much like their archrival Czechs, jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but then appeared to become rattled by a physical, hard-hitting Norwegian squad that wasn't afraid to get in the face of anyone, including the towering 6-foot-9 Chara. The big defenseman seemed to be taking a hard hit wherever he was on the ice, especially when he retreated to get the puck along the boards and in the corners. NHL scouts most definitely took notice, because there have been few times in his NHL career when Chara has been under such physical scrutiny. While the "Big Z" battled through, making the final clearing shot around the boards to prevent Norway from tying the game, he was clearly slowed by the physical punishment.
"We stopped playing after we scored those goals early in the game," Chara, the Slovakian captain, told NHL.com. "We thought it would be an easy game and it was totally the opposite."
Mats Zuccarello Aasen had a goal and assist for a very opportunistic Norwegian team that never seemed to give up on a play. That attitude paid off at the end of the second period, when Anders Bastiansen lit the lamp to tie the game with 0.1 seconds left on a controversial non-offsides call that was clearly missed by the referees. Nevertheless, the Norwegians and Slovaks headed to the second intermission tied, and the Slovaks were simply stunned. But give them credit, as they bent but didn't break, and Satan, a veteran of four Olympics now, was able to beat Paul Grotnes, who made 36 saves for the Norwegians.
Slovakia knows it is going to need a better effort against Sweden if it is to have the chance to play for a medal.
"We just have to turn 360 degrees and play way better, because it is not going to be enough against Sweden," Gaborik told NHL.com.
The Slovaks were a dark horse in this tournament because of their Olympic experience and skill throughout the roster. Halak, who has had a great season for the Montreal Canadiens, was also considered as a possible tournament-changing goalie with the ability to steal some games. Well, he and his teammates stole one against Norway, but not in the fashion they and the prognosticators were envisioning.
They hung on for dear life, and if they play that way against the likes of the Sedin brothers and a Henrik Lundqvist who is playing like the Lundqvist that led his team to gold in 2006, the Slovaks won't be hanging on, they will be clawing back. Chances are, they won't claw back to victory because Lundqvist will protect a lead as good as any in this tournament.