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World Cup of Hockey

Team Czech Republic needs lots of help, luck

Overtime loss to Team Europe makes advancing to World Cup semifinal unlikely

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

TORONTO -- "In overtime, it's just a casino," Jakub Voracek was saying. "It's a roulette."

So now it's up to Lady Luck if Team Czech Republic is going to advance past the round-robin of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 after it lost 3-2 in overtime to Team Europe on Monday.

Voracek and his teammates knew the harsh reality going into the matinee game against the terrific hybrid group that would become the first team in this tournament with two wins beside its name.

But Team Czech Republic spent the afternoon chasing a game it needed to win. It was listless from the opening faceoff, outshot 8-5 in the first period and with just seven shots on the board at the midway point.

It surrendered a penalty shot early in the second, defenseman Michal Kempny having closed his hand on the puck in the goal crease. Goalie Petr Mrazek slammed the five-hole shut on Team Europe captain Anze Kopitar, though, pumping a gloved fist enthusiastically when he kept the game scoreless.

Video: EUR@CZE: Mrazek shuts five-hole on Kopitar

But Zdeno Chara would snap a shot past the goalie midway through the period to put Team Czech Republic in its first hole of the afternoon. Voracek's goal tied it three minutes later, then Team Europe went up 2-1 early in the third when Mats Zuccarello scored.

It was another crater escaped when Martin Hanzal scored the equalizer six minutes later on a power play, pushing the game into overtime.

An unlucky 3-on-3 trip to the casino, as it turned out, Leon Draisaitl sent in alone on a Zuccarello pass to beat Mrazek and give the win to Team Europe, one of the best feel-good stories of this tournament.

"You can't practice 3-on-3," Voracek said with a sigh. "You have to play man-on-man, back up, kind of hold the net. Obviously, there's going to be a lot of chances. In overtime, if you make one mistake or you slip, there's going to be a breakaway."

Team Czech Republic put forth a better effort than it had Saturday during a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Team Canada, but not enough to guarantee a berth in the medal round. Now it needs help from others, and a fifth ace in the deck wouldn't hurt, to advance.

"We knew we had to win the game," assistant coach Vinny Prospal said. "It's simple math, and all of our players knew that, so the emotion on the bench was great the second half of the game, and I believe starting the overtime, we showed up here to play to win. It's as simple as that. Obviously, now the feeling is pretty down in our locker room."

Video: EUR@CZE: Draisaitl buries breakaway for OT winner

Team Czech Republic chose to go with Mrazek in goal, Michal Neuvirth having been shelled by 50 shots and torched for six goals by Team Canada.

Mrazek responded with a First Star-worthy performance, making 38 saves and keeping his team in the hunt when Team Europe came at him in waves.

"I thought he was really good. He gave us a chance to win," Prospal said. "And why we went with him is because, it's not like Neuvirth played bad for us in the first game; he was by far our best player in the first game. We just had a hunch that Petr could give us an opportunity to win this game, and that's what we did."

The game was an adventure in some ways for Mrazek, who was sensationally airtight during a 64-second third-period 5-on-3 for Team Europe, then was both glittering and rusty in a 66-second span. He made a sprawling glove save on Roman Josi, flailing in the crease when Josi drilled a puck into the webbing of his trapper. Then he was beaten on Zuccarello's go-ahead goal, a shot he'll usually stop in his sleep.

"I just got my glove up (on Josi), and the puck hit it. There was nothing about this save, it was just luck," Mrazek said. "I lost the second one a bit. I tried to stop it with my shoulder and it hit me and my glove and went in."

If the goalie was beating himself up a little for that goal, Voracek wouldn't hear of it.

Video: EUR@CZE: Voracek scores with a quick release

"He's sitting beside me, so I don't want to give him too much credit," Voracek said with a tight smile, sharing a postgame interview table with Mrazek. "But he was amazing, especially on the 5-on-3."

The Czech Republic now must sit and wait for the result of the game between Team Canada and Team USA on Tuesday. If Team USA loses, it's out, so expect Air Canada Centre to be on the verge of spontaneous combustion when the two rivals face off.

"We lost two games and we don't have much of a chance right now to go to the semis," Hanzal said of Team Czech Republic's chances. "We've got to hope that Canada loses twice, which is going to be really hard, but there's still a chance, so we have to hope."

No matter its situation come its third and final round-robin game, Thursday against Team USA, Voracek said there is plenty at stake for Team Czech Republic, beginning with pride.

"It's the World Cup. It's not a preseason game, we have to make sure we leave everything out there and get a win," he said. "We have to play our hearts out. It doesn't matter if you're going to be in or out, it's the World Cup. You have to find a way to win.

"We still have a chance, but we know what has to happen. We're going to play 1,000 percent and we have to win on Thursday. We don't want to go home with one point."

That single point probably will feel like a ton weight on their shoulders Tuesday, their tournament fate now in the hands of others.

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