The United States was dominant throughout group play of the women's hockey tournament at the 2022 Winter Olympics, but they were anything but that in their first game of the playoffs early Friday morning. They took down the Czech Republic by a score of 4-1 to advance to the semifinals, but despite the victory and their massive shot differential (59-6), it was far from a stellar showing.
Many expected the U.S. to run the Czechs out of the building in their quarterfinal tilt, but the underdogs played admirably throughout the contest. The Czechs didn't register a single shot on goal through the game's first 20 minutes, but they did an excellent job of clogging up the center of the ice and limiting the Americans to perimeter shots.
In the second period, it was the Czechs who opened up the scoring when U.S. netminder Alex Cavallini was caught out of position and Michaela Pejzlova slid the puck into the wide-open net. It didn't take the Americans long to respond, though. Not even a full minute later, Hilary Knight scored the first U.S. goal of the morning to tie it at one apiece.
The goal shifted momentum back in the Americans' favor, but the Czechs later got their own shot of adrenaline when they earned a five-minute major power play. Dani Cameranesi forced Czech defender Tereza Radova into the boards head-first, and after she was initially called for a minor penalty, the officials reviewed the play and assessed the major infraction. Luckily, the U.S. killed off the major power play and kept the game tied heading into the second intermission.
Finally, the U.S. managed to earn its first lead of the game in the third period off a tally from Lee Stecklein that went off a Czech defender. Savannah Harmon, who's been terrific throughout the tournament for the U.S., added to the advantage with just over three minutes left in regulation to double her squad's lead, and captain Kendall Coyne Schofield sealed it with an empty-netter in the game's waning moments.
Though her team didn't get the win, Czech netminder Klara Peslarova was the star of the game. She was outstanding throughout the contest, stopping 55 American shots.
"I mean, I don't even know what to say. I think (Peslarova) is one of the best goalies in the world," said Czech goal-scorer Pejzlova. "I am so proud of her."
The Czechs were impressive during the preliminary stage, going 2-1-1 in their first-ever appearance in the Olympic women's hockey tournament, so its not a total shock that they managed to stay with the U.S. for so long. Still, it's surprising that the U.S. only managed four goals against the considerably weaker Czech squad.
The Americans have left much to be desired on the power play for the entire tournament, and that didn't change against the Czechs, though Harmon's tally did come on the skater advantage. Overall, the U.S. went 1-for-5 on the power play, but struggled to create high-danger scoring chances and at times even had difficulties connecting on routine passes.
Despite the sloppy play, though, the Americans are just one win away from returning to the gold medal game.
The U.S. will play against either Finland or Japan in the semifinals.