Slovakia's players celebrate
Slovakia grabbed their ticket into the world ice hockey championship's title-decider with a tight 3-1 semi-final win over former compatriots Czech Republic here on Saturday.
In the championship's gold medal match the Slovaks will face Russia, who dethroned champions Finland with a 6-2 win to clinch their final berth earlier Saturday in a replay of the 2002 title match, which Slovakia won 4-3 to grab their first and only world crown.
Slovakia's 37-year-old veteran winger Miroslav Satan was the hero of the match scoring a double, while goaltender Jan Laco produced 36 saves to make it to the final.
"It was a very tight game today," said Slovakia manager Vladimir Vujtek.
"We managed to score in the first period but in the second period the Czechs were better and scored back and it was the same as against Canada."
"Luckily, we managed to score again in the third period to win the match and a place in the final. But we have lost our third defender in the tournament (Tomas Starosta) and tomorrow we will have to play with just five defenders."
The opposing teams traded threats from the start but both missed their chances before Satan lifted Slovakia 1-0 up with a slap shot from the left face-off circle at 4:08 before the first break.
In the second period the Czechs moved up a gear and began testing the Slovakia defence keeping Laco under constant pressure and levelled through Chicago Blackhawks winger Michael Frolik, who wristed in at 30:45.
Satan put Slovakia into the lead again 56sec into the third with a shorthanded goal after beating Czech defence on a breakaway, while Libor Hudacek rounded off the scoring with his insurance goal at 44:23 after a Czechs' mix up in defence.
In the early semi-final Russia, who are seeking their first world title after winning the 2009 event in Switzerland, battled back from a goal down to earn a final spot courtesy of a hat-trick by NHL scoring champion Yevgeni Malkin.
"It was a tough match, much tougher than you would imagine looking at the scoreboard," Malkin said.
"Today the entire team played well not only our line. We are taking seriously all our opponents here, making no difference between them. And we play every game at our best."
The Finns, spurred on by the 13,000 home crowd, clinched the lead through defender Janne Niskala, who scored with a slap shot from the blue line with the help of a slight ricochet, 7:28 into the match.
Russia replied positively pinning the hosts back and clinched the 2-1 lead through Pittsburgh Penguins center Malkin who scored twice before the first interval.
Washington Capitals winger Alexander Ovechkin netted Russia's third, while Malkin completed his hat-trick on a powerplay opportunity firing the puck in with 2:14 remaining before the second break.
Finland, aiming to end the dreaded "home ice curse", which has seen the host nation fail to win the competition since the Soviets in 1986, made a valiant comeback effort in the third period but Denis Kokarev's goal all but extinguished their hopes.
Forward Sergei Shirokov made it 6-1 for Russia scoring 8:41 into the third also on powerplay before Mikael Granlund netted Finland's second goal to sweeten a bitter pill for the hosts with four minutes to go.
"We started really well, scored, and could have gone 2-0 up in the first period but failed to increase our lead," Finland manager Jukka Jaloned said.
"But then something happened to us at the end of the period and we lost confidence allowing Russia to score two goals."
Finland will play Czech Republic in the bronze medal match on Sunday.