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Slovakia upsets defending champion Sweden, 4-3, in hockey quarterfinals

February 25, 2010 | 12:21 am

Remember all those Canadian fans chanting “We Want Sweden” in anticipation that Canada would face the defending Olympic champions in the hockey tournament semifinals on Friday?

If they went to bed early and missed Slovakia’s 4-3 quarterfinal upset Wednesday night they’re in for one huge surprise.

Slovakia, though outshot by 29-14, held off the tired-looking second-seeded Swedes thanks to power-play goals by Marian Gaborik and former King Pavol Demitra and even-strength goals by Andrej Sekera and Tomas Kopecky. Sweden pulled within a goal at 9:39 of the third period but couldn’t get the equalizer against Jaroslav Halak, the Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender.

“We beat the last gold medal team,” defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, another former King, marveled afterward. “We play very simple hockey. Nothing special….

“We are so happy. We enjoy this moment and then we start thinking about another game.”

That other game happens to be against home-country favorite Canada, at 6:30 on Friday. “For our country this is a big moment, the first time Slovakia hockey play for an Olympic medal,” Visnovsky said. “Canada start playing much, much better. They play great hockey and have lots of confidence.

“It’s for Canada the big pressure. For us nothing maybe. We’ll see what happens. You never know.”

How true.

“It’s awesome. We are dreaming,” Kings center Michal Handzus said. “We knew we had a good team. Obviously we knew we had to play a certain way and we did today. Everybody play as a team. We battle for each other.

“It’s huge. It’s great for us and we just have to keep going.”

He acknowledged that Canada will be tough. “For sure. They’re favored for gold, as Sweden was, too,” he said. “We’ve got to regroup. We’ve got to refresh. Very big battle but we are going for every game to win. We’re pretty confident in that game.”

Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom of Sweden and the Detroit Red Wings generously praised Slovakia.

“It’s a big disappointment. But we lost to a good team. You’ve got to give them credit. Their special teams were good,” said Lidstrom, who had a rough game and a -2 defensive rating.

The game could be the end of an era for a great generation of Swedish players such as Lidstrom and Peter Forsberg. “It could be. I’m not going to be part of any more Olympics as a player,” Lidstrom said.