Team Canada's Brad Richards,(39) celebrates with teammate Kris Draper after scoring the first goal against the Czech Republic during first period hockey action at the 2006 Winter Olympic Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2006 in Turin. Canada won the game 3-2, (CP PHOTO/Ryan Remiorz)
TURIN, Italy - Team Canada found an early cure for its offensive woes, but it was goaltender Martin Brodeur who saved the patient as Canada closed the preliminary round with a 3-2 win over the Czech Republic this afternoon at Palasport Arena.
Brodeur stopped 31 of 33 shots as Canada righted itself after two consecutive losses and now prepares to face Russia in tomorrow's quarter-finals.
Canada, with three wins, two losses and no ties, finished third in Group A, behind Finland (5-0-0) and Switzerland (2-1-2). The Czechs (2-3-0) finished fourth.
Slovakia (5-0-0) took top spot in Group B, with Russia (4-1-0) second, Sweden (3-2-0) third and the U.S. (1-3-1) the final team to qualify.
Canada plays Russia tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. EST.
The other quarter-final matchups see Finland play the U.S., Slovakia play the Czech Republic and Sweden against Switzerland.
Against the Czechs, Canada finally rediscovered its scoring touch with three first-period goals to jump to a 3-0 lead, but Brodeur was forced into brilliance as the powerful Czech offence came to life, outshooting Canada 33-16 in the game, including 12-2 in the third period.
"The worst thing for us was probably getting the early lead," said Brodeur, who was in the net when Canada defeated the U.S. in the 2002 final. "We sat back after that, but in the end we held on and got a good performance out of our guys."
Canadian forward Draper acknowledged it was Brodeur who stole the win.
"Marty showed why he is the best goaltender in the world," he said.
The Canadians escaped a shaky second period with a 3-1 lead after Pavel Kubina beat Brodeur on the power-play with a bullet inside the post and Canada's Jarome Iginla and Rob Blake both in the penalty box.
Petr Cajanek then made it 3-2 early in the third and continued to pour it on, but Brodeur shut the door and saved the Canadians' bacon.
Described as playing dopey by head coach Pat Quinn after consecutive shutout losses to Switzerland and Finland, Canada started the game more energized than it had all tournament, but also benefited from a shaky Czech goaltender, Tomas Vokoun, who was pulled after the first period and replaced with Milan Hnilicka.
The entire Canadian team, and the country for that matter, breathed a sigh of relief when Brad Richards scored Canada's first goal in 128 minutes and eight seconds of hockey when his harmless-looking snapshot fooled Vokoun, giving them a 1-0 lead 7:37 into the first.
"It's something that we needed," Draper said. "It was an ugly type of goal and Brad had a cheeky grin on his face, but it was what we needed."
"I just had a bad day and when they got that first goal it just snowballed," Vokoun said. "Sometimes those things happen."
Richards' Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis made it 2-0 on the power-play with a bad-angled shot at 11:19 that bounced off Vokoun's back and into the net.
Defenceman Chris Pronger then put the exclamation point on the period with just 36 seconds remaining and it seemed Canada was going to have an easy afternoon.
"Every game is a stepping stone to getting to the final game," Wayne Gretzky, the team's executive director told the CBC afterward. "We had a really good first period and all of a sudden the tide turned."
Brodeur had to be his best in the second period as the Czechs outshot Canada 14-6.
Shortly after Jaromir Jagr was robbed by a Brodeur glove save, Iginla and Blake took penalties 1:01 apart and Kubina quickly made them pay with his goal at 13:46.
Canada got a scare early in the period when Brodeur appeared hurt afer a Czech player fell on him, but after an examination by trainers, he remained in the game.
"It felt a little hurt but now it's fine. No problem," Brodeur said.
Cajanek's goal at 2:41 of the third gave the Czechs more life and despite owning the period, could not get the tying goal.
After the loss to Switzerland on Saturday, Roberto Luongo started in net against the Finns, but Gretzky said there was no doubt who would start today.
"Marty felt disappointed with the loss Saturday and wanted to come right back the next day, but I just felt he needed a day off to get ready for this game," Gretzky said.
In other games earlier today, Finland defeated Germany 2-0 to cement its first-place standing in Canada's Group A, Kazakhstan beat Latvia 5-2 and Italy tied Switzerland 3-3.
In Group B action yesterday, Slovakia defeated Sweden, 3-0, while Russia beat the U.S., 5-4.