* Olympic champions Canada beaten 3-2 by Finland
* Costly penalty sees U.S. lose 4-3 to Czech Republic
* Holders Sweden battle to 3-2 win over hosts Belarus
* Russia ease past France 3-0 to reach semi-finals (writes through with quotes, details, adds byline)
By Dimitriy Rogovitskiy
May 22 (Reuters) - Olympic ice hockey gold medallists Canada lost 3-2 to Finland in the quarter-finals of the world championships on Thursday to join the U.S. in heading for the exit after the Americans went down 4-3 to the Czech Republic.
Holders Sweden earned a hard fought 3-2 win over hosts Belarus and in the semi-finals will face Russia, who earlier beat France 3-0, leaving the Finns to take on the Czechs at the tournament being held in Minsk, Belarus.
A goal with three minutes left in the third period by Iiro Pakarinen gave Finland victory as Canada fell at the quarter-final stage for the fifth year running.
The Czechs avenged their defeat to the Americans at the same stage of the 2012 Olympic Games, coming from behind to take full advantage of an extra man on a power play after U.S. captain Justin Abdelkader was ejected for charging.
“The turning point was obviously when their captain took the penalty and we were able to score two goals,” said Czech head coach Vladimir Ruzicka. “After that we focused on our neutral zone trap and most of the time we did that OK.”
Canada started well but could not capitalise as the Finns got into penalty trouble before making excellent use of their first opportunity on the power play when Olli Palola scored.
Canada tied the game five minutes into the second period through Kyle Turris who fired past Pekka Rinne.
Mark Scheifele gave Canada a 2-1 lead seven minutes later, after combining with Joel Ward on a 2 on 1 breakaway.
The Finns tied up the game 28 seconds into the third period when Juuso Hietanen’s shot from the blue line was only half stopped by Ben Scrivens and the puck trickled over the line.
Jori Lehtera provided his third assist of the evening for the winner when he capitalised on a turnover on the Canadian blue line before feeding the oncoming Pakarinen, who shot straight through Scrivens’ pads.
“We got a good start in the first period, but in the second period Canada was very strong,” said Finland coach Erkka Westerlund.
“In the third period, we found the mental strength. We call it ‘sisu’ (in Finnish). I am very proud of my team. My wife had a birthday today. I’ve been on the road so many days. It was a good present for her.”
Canada coach Dave Tippett added: ”For the most part, I thought our team played well. We controlled long portions of the game. We made a couple of mistakes that cost us the game.
“Our goal was to get better every day. That was probably the best game we’ve played here.”
In the Chizhkovka Arena in Minsk, Brock Nelson had given the U.S. an early lead, but Tomas Rolinek equalised less than three minutes later.
Then Abdelkader was handed his penalty for charging Vladimir Sobotka after the Czech forward had unleashed a shot inside Tim Thomas’s near post.
The Czechs were ahead within 10 seconds as Tomas Hertl slotted the puck home after Jiri Novotny’s shot had been saved.
Roman Cervenka made it 3-1 eight minutes into the second period, with his second goal of the tournament, and Ondrej Nemec’s fierce shot from the blueline gave the Czech Republic a three-goal cushion.
The Czechs endured a nail-biting finish as the Americans hit back with two late goals from Tyler Johnson, but they held out for the final minute to reach the last four.
Johnson was proud of the late comeback but frustrated with its timing.
”I think we did as well as we could have done in the last minute there, getting those two goals,“ he said. ”We had some chances and we had to bury one. I think that shows a lot of character, but I wish it had come a little sooner.
“In the end, it was a good game,” he added on the official International Ice Hockey federation website (www.iihfworlds2014.com).
“Those five or seven minutes, whatever it was, when we were in penalty trouble and they got those quick goals, that’s what really killed us in the end.”
Per Marts’ Sweden side won the last quarter-final thanks to goals by Nicklas Danielsson, Jimmie Ericsson and Mattias Ekholm after Russia beat France in the Minsk Arena.
Russia’s Artem Anisimov, Evgeny Malkin and Alexander Kutuzov scored to avenge their defeat by France at last year’s worlds in Stockholm.
“It was a tough game, just like we expected,” said Russia’s head coach Oleg Znarok. “France has evolved a lot in the last couple of years.” (Reporting by Dimitriy Rogovitskiy, editing by Ken Ferris and Neville Dalton)