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U.S. gold medal push resumes against Czechs

<p>The United States returns to action in the men's hockey tournament with a quarterfinal matchup Wednesday against the Czech Republic.</p>

Sochi, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - The United States returns to action in the men's hockey tournament with a quarterfinal matchup Wednesday against the Czech Republic.

The Americans won Group A to earn a bye into the quarterfinals, sandwiching dominant wins over Slovakia and Slovenia with a thrilling 3-2 shootout win over Russia in best game of the preliminary round.

Gaining the extra point in the eight-round shootout against the Russians, thanks to the heroic efforts of T.J. Oshie and goaltender Jonathan Quick, enabled the Americans to bypass the qualification round and earn an extra day of rest.

The U.S. scored 15 goals during the preliminary round, tying Finland for the highest-scoring output over the first three games. Phil Kessel led the way with four goals, including a natural hat trick in Sunday's 5-1 win against Slovenia, and added three assists. David Backes and Paul Stastny also scored twice during round-robin play for the Americans.

Quick played the first two games in net for the United States and took Sunday off as Ryan Miller got the start against Slovenia. Quick will be back between the pipes for the quarterfinal matchup. He stopped all but three of the 54 shots he faced in the first two games.

The Czechs were just 1-2 in Group C action, beating only Latvia with losses to Sweden and Switzerland. They earned the quarterfinal berth with a 5-3 win over arch-rival Slovakia on Tuesday, but not before nearly blowing a four-goal lead.

Ales Hemsky, Roman Cervenka and David Krejci gave the Czechs a 3-0 lead after the first period and Cervenka scored again in the second, but Marian Hossa answered with a late second-period goal and an early marker in the third before Tomas Surovy pulled the Slovaks within one with 11:09 remaining.

Slovakia could not find the equalizer and Tomas Plekanec scored into an empty net to finally seal it for the Czechs. Ondrej Pavelec made 29 saves in the victory. He has yielded six goals in three games with a .923 save percentage.

The Czechs have a veteran team led by Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias, both members of the 2006 bronze medal winners. Jagr was also part of the Czechs' lone gold medal effort in the 1998 Games. Marek Zidlicky, Tomas Kaberle, Hemsky and Martin Erat also played eight years ago in Torino.

The United States is trying to win gold for the first time since the "Miracle on Ice" squad in 1980. The Americans have won a pair of medals since NHL players began participation in 1998, taking silver in 2002 and again four years ago. Kessel and 12 others were part of the squad in Vancouver.

Wednesday will mark the first Olympic meeting since the Czechs claimed a 4-1 in over the U.S. in the 1998 quarterfinals.

The winner will advance to the semifinals against the winner between Canada and Latvia.

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