SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- The United States, Russia and a much-relieved Canada advanced to the Olympic hockey semifinals Wednesday, but an amazingly strange goal ended Sweden's medal hopes in one of the biggest upsets in the sport's history.
Russia knocked off the defending champion Czech Republic in a classic goaltending duel, 1-0; the United States coasted past outmatched Germany, 5-0; and Canada, facing harsh criticism back home for what has been a bland effort in the Olympics, fought off Finland, 2-1.
The first of the four quarterfinal games, however, produced a shock.
Lightly-regarded Belarus played Sweden on even terms and then capitalized on a fluke goal to advance to the semifinals, 4-3.
"There will be a holiday back home over this," said Belarus coach Vladimir Kirkunov. "I asked my players to play their best against NHL players, to play a tighter defense and counterattack. We did better than I hoped."
Sweden's Nicklas Lidstrom scored 3:10 into the contest and it appeared the Swedes would coast to the expected result. But Oleg Romanov tied it later in the first period and Sweden never regained the lead.
With the game deadlocked and time beginning to run down, Vladimir Kopat scored in bizarre fashion with 2:24 remaining.
Kopat threw the puck into the Swedish zone from mid-ice 80 feet out and it took a bad bounce, hopped off glove of Swedish goalkeeper Tommy Salo, hit him in the face, slithered over his shoulder and into the net. Salo was the winning goalie when the Swedes won the 1994 gold medal in a shootout with Canada.
"Don't blame Tommy," said Sweden's Mats Sundin. "We should have put them away by the second period. We didn't play very well and in an elimination game, they were tied with a few minutes to go. We just didn't play that well. We give Belarus credit. This wipes out all our hard work and is a huge disappointment. Our dressing room is a disaster area."
Before leaving the Olympic Village for the stadium, members of the United States team watched Sweden's unexpected demise.
"It's an example of how dominating teams can be in the round robin and then how critical the quarterfinals are," said American center Mike Modano. "We approached it as Game 7, win or go home."
"We did what we had to do, just do the job and move on," said Brett Hull, who plays on a line with Modano. "Russia on Friday will be a tough game. We should have gotten more out of the first period, but we settled for the one goal."
In the 1980 Olympics, the United States stunned the Soviet Union, 4-3. The same man who coached that American team is coaching this one.
"I did not say in 1980 that we were a team of destiny," Coach Herb Brooks said. "I didn't say that this team. I did say to the 1980 team that it was there time to be there."
Earlier in these Games, the United States played Russia to a 2-2 tie.
Germany spent much of the first period having to battle shorthanded.
"We killed off the penalties pretty good and were happy with it being only 1-0 at the end of the first period," said German Coach Hans Zach. "Then they overwhelmed us."
Hasek faced 27 shots and let in only one -- that by Maxim Afinogenov early in the second period.
With national pride on the line, Canada took a 2-0 lead at the 5:49 mark of the second period on a goal by Steve Yzerman. But just 20 seconds later, Niklas Hagman stormed into the midst of a collection of Canadian defenders, scooped up a loose puck and beat Martin Brodeur.
That was the way it stayed as Canada outshot Finland, 34-19.
With Belarus the only thing standing in their way, the Canadiens are now heavily favored to make it to the gold medal game.
"But after all we have been through, we aren't going to be taking anybody lightly," Yzerman said.
The Belarus win was likely the biggest Olympic upset since the 1980 shocker that saw a collection of young American beat the powerful Soviet Union.
"I was just trying to throw the puck into their zone and I decided to put it on net," Kopat said of his winning goal. "I flipped it from behind the red line and it bounced off his (Salo's) glove and rolled over the line. I can't believe it. We beat Sweden. We're in the semifinals. It's my biggest thing in my hockey career. I believe in miracles and this is one."
Belarus goaltender Andrei Mezin made 44 saves.
"From the other end I saw it bounce on Tommy and then hit his glove and then it went behind him," Mezin said. "It's my biggest win. Nothing can top this. I don't care who we play in the semifinals, we have a chance."
"I did my best," Salo said. "They got a short handed goal and a power play goal and were tied with us at the end. I grabbed at the bounce and it hit off my glove. I won the gold medal in '94 in a shootout and now this happens. It's a bitter pill."
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