OSLO, Norway -- First Alexei Yashin saved Russia from relegation. Then he got his team off to a dream start in the quarterfinal round of the World Hockey Championships.
A day after scoring a hat trick against Finland, Yashin notched two power-play goals and added an assist as Russia routed the Czech Republic 6-1 Friday.
Defending champion Sweden edged Slovakia 2-1 for its fourth consecutive victory. Rookie Thomas Johansson got the game-winner on the power play with 35 seconds left of the second period.
Markus Naslund, the Vancouver Canucks' top goal scorer this season, scored the other goal, his team-leading fourth for the Swedes. Cdeno Ciger had a shorthanded goal for Slovakia midway through the third period.
Since losing to Canada in the 1997 Worlds in Finland, the Swedes have played 14 straight World Championship games without a loss (13 victories, one tie).
In the other quarterfinal group at Hamar, Teemu Selanne scored the game-winner as Finland edged the United States 4-3 and Scott Thornton scored a hat trick to lead Canada to a 8-2 victory over Switzerland. Canada has also won four straight in the tournament.
"I was just lucky to bang in a few rebounds and get a breakaway," Thornton said. "I was lucky to have a good lineup setting up plays for me.
"The scoring ran away a bit, but we wanted to play a hard 60 minutes, which we hadn't been doing up to now."
Selanne, the NHL goal-scoring leader this season, and Saku Koivu each had a goal and two assists against the United States. For awhile it seemed the Americans might pull off an upset, when Vancouver Canucks Trent Klatt scored the game's first two goals for a 2-0 lead.
For the second time in as many matches, Finland rallied back from a multi-goal deficit to avert disaster.
"We knew it would be a fast game," Finnish coach Hannu Aravirta said. "The many power-play minutes helped us because we were tired, having played yesterday against Russia."
Selanne capped the Finnish comeback at 12:21 in the final period, knocking in a loose puck to clinch the victory.
The Americans began on a strong note, but repeated trips to the penalty box were costly, with the Finns scoring three successive power-play goals in the second period to jump in front 3-2.
Los Angeles King Olli Jokinen scored first for Finland at 4:37, tipping in an airborne puck from Selanne in the left circle. Kimmo Timonen of the Nashville Predators knotted the score 3:12 later with a slap shot from the blue line.
With 24 seconds remaining in the second, Koivu gave the Finns the lead, set up by Selanne.
It was only Tim Thomas' brilliant goaltending which prevented the Finns from taking an even greater lead on a two-man power play, when Bret Hedican and Tom Chorske were sent to the box for roughing and cross-checking. Thomas, who plays in the Finnish league, saved a whopping 28 shots in the period, with the Finns outshooting the United States 31-7 and taking no penalties.
Chorske somewhat made up for his infraction, tying up the match with a goal at 1:53 in the final period, before Selanne scored the winner.
"Of course we're disappointed," Klatt said. "We played good hockey and were just a couple of inches from tying the match at the end.
"We didn't come here to lose," Klatt said. "When you take a 2-0 lead it's tough to lose. With only have 3-4 guys on the ice for the majority of the game, it's difficult to win against anybody."
Numerous penalties were also largely responsible for the United States' 4-3 loss to the Czech Republic in their last preliminary round match.
"There's not a team in this tournament that could absorb as many power plays against them and have an opportunity to win," American coach Terry Murray said.
The Finns had made a similar comeback against Russia in their final round-robin match. Trailing 3-0 going into the third period, Finland scored three goals in the final 10 minutes of the match to salvage a draw.
The Czechs, with ten 1998 Olympic champions on the squad and unbeaten in the preliminary round, took the lead just 1:10 into the game on a goal by Tomas Vlasak. The Russians, who had struggled in the preliminaries, then took over with three unanswered goals in the first period starting with Yashin's first at 10:40. Yashin leads the tournament's scoring race with eight goals and one assist in four games.
Ravil Gusmanov, Sergei Petrenko, Maxim Souchinskiy and Alexander Prokopiev scored the other goals for Russia. Goalie Egor Podomatski made 30 saves and was named the Russians' star of the game.
"We were a little bit afraid of this game and didn't get much time to rest after playing late last night in Hamar," Russian coach Alexander Yakushev said. "That's why everybody had a feeling of great responsibility when we came to the arena today. And mentally and physically it was quite difficult."
Russia, which has not made the podium since winning its last title in 1993, will face Sweden next.
Martin Rucinsky, the Montreal Canadiens Czech wing, said it was a closer game than 6-1.
"But I have to give them credit," he said. "They played very well. We took the lead, but then they scored three unanswered goals in the first period. We had lots of chances, but we didn't score goals.
"Now we just have to go on. We have two games left against Slovakia and Sweden. Those two games will be very important for us and we'll se what happens."
Arriving in Hamar just 24 hours before, Jeff Friesen and Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks showed no lingering effects from jet lag, opening the scoring for Canada. Picking up a beautiful centering pass from the corner by Marleau, Friesen beat Swiss goaltender David Aebischer to give Canada a 1-0 lead. Rob Niedermayer, Adam Graves, Cory Stillman and Scott Walker also scored for Canada. Like all other teams in the quarterfinal round, Canada has a day off before facing 1996 World Cup champion United States on Sunday.
"That's going to be a fun game," Thornton said. "They know what to expect and so do we. We'll be playing our NHL peers and even teammates in some instances. This is where it is going to start."
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