BEIJING (Reuters) -Defending Olympic champions the United States beat Czech Republic 4-1 in a tougher-than-expected women’s ice hockey quarter-final at the Beijing Olympics on Friday.
While the American hockey powerhouse rarely find themselves on the backfoot, the twice gold medallists did not claim the lead until the third period, when U.S. assistant captain Lee Stecklein broke a tense 1-1 tie.
“It is frustrating when the puck just won’t go in and their goalie is playing great. But you can’t let that get to you,” Stecklein said after the game.
After a scoreless first period, Czech forward Michaela Pejzlova drew first blood five minutes into the second to wake up a furious American team that retaliated 48 seconds later when four-time Olympian Hilary Knight knocked a rebound into the net.
The Czechs had a chance to regain the momentum after officials sent U.S. forward Dani Cameranesi to the penalty box for five minutes on a boarding call but could not break through the American defences.
A shot from Stecklein ricocheted off a Czech defender’s stick and through the legs of netminder Klara Peslarova to give the Americans the lead midway through the third period.
Savannah Harmon knocked one into the bottom corner to add to the advantage 10 minutes later and captain Kendall Coyne Schofield wrapped up the win with seconds left on the clock.
It was more of a test than the twice gold medallists expected from the Czechs, who are making their Olympic debut.
The U.S. had a total of 59 shots on goal compared to six from their opponents, who did not produce a shot on net in the first period.
“You’ve just got to keep shooting, doesn’t matter how many shots you’ve taken, one’s going to go in,” Knight told reporters at Wukesong Sports Centre.
“These goalies are great at this level and we really have to challenge them.”
The game also underscored the Americans’ powerplay struggles, as they failed to score with the extra skater twice in the opening frame.
“Stats-wise it doesn’t look great,” said Knight. “But it’s going to come when it needs to come.”
In the semi-final round, the Americans will next face either Finland or Japan, who play their quarter-final match in Beijing on Saturday.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Ken Ferris and Bill Berkrot)