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VANCOUVER – The day before, Sergei Fedorov said that even though he was a hockey generation older than many of the most prominent players on his team, he was not a coach and didn't intend to make speeches.
Instead, the 40-year-old, three-time Stanley Cup-winner planned to just go out and have a little fun with the kids – and provide his leadership by proving he still could keep up.
That's just what Fedorov did Tuesday night at Canada Hockey Place. Before Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk buried Latvia under an avalanche of goals, it was Fedorov who set up the two early tallies that ensured that the Russians would have their wits about them as they began their quest for 2010 Olympic gold with an 8-2 romp.
"We tried to play quick hockey – on net," Fedorov said. "I mean, the first game everybody is always a little bit nervous. That's natural. But we found a way."
The Russians found a way by following Fedorov's lead. And then by unleashing the fury of their generation's superstars.
"Yeah, you know, it's always nice when you get some good moments and a good start," Ovechkin told NHL.com after scoring the two goals that ripped the heart out of the game Latvians. "We were ready for it. But it's just a start and we have to continue how we play."
Especially in the third period, when the Russians saw Latvian blood in the water, circled like the goal-seeking sharks they are and scored four times to break it open.
"Yes," Ovechkin said, "we played better in the third period than in the first two."
Fedorov sensed that that would be the case – especially with a 9 p.m. PT start time contributing late-night haze to whatever opening night jitters the Russians were feeling.
"I think it was important to score right away," Fedorov said. "I figured out it might be a little easier to play with the lead. I felt out of place a little bit – it's a late game, 9 o'clock. We were a little foggy. So I felt it was important to get into the game right away."
Fedorov used his veteran savvy and still-pumping legs to set up goals in the first 7:36 by fellow KHLers Danis Zaripov and Alexander Radulov.
On the first – on his line's first shift of the tournament just 2:38 into the game -- Fedorov held onto the puck with 22 years worth of professional poise until Latvian defenseman Guntis Galvins came to him, leaving Zaripov open to convert his feathery saucer pass across the goalmouth. On the 2-0 goal, Fedorov slashed through the Latvian defense to take a pass from Dmitry Kalinin and then whip a shot on goal that produced a juicy rebound for Radulov to convert. No more Russian nerves.
"It's the first game and guys were a little bit nervous," said Russian center Pavel Datsyuk, who once learned at Fedorov's knee with the Detroit Red Wings. "Once we started getting some goals, we started feeling a lot better."
And on the two occasions when Latvia began to feel good about itself – perhaps dreaming of repeating its opening-game performance of four years before when it stunningly tied Team USA, 3-3 – Ovechkin struck.
The first time, with 35 seconds left in a first period that had settled down, Ovechkin got open between the circles. He then one-timed a puck past overmatched Latvian goaltender Edgars Masalskis after fellow Washington Capital Alexander Semin had pick-pocketed Galvins and fed a perfect pass.
Then, after a goal by Herberts Vasiljevs 33 seconds into broke the spell of Russian goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and pulled Latvia within 4-1, Ovechkin struck again. Only 26 seconds later, Ovechkin wheeled down the left side and whipped a rising wrist shot over Masalskis to pretty much end any suspense about the outcome and touch off a three-goals-in-2:05 Russian blitz.
"Oh yeah, you know, it's mentally important," Ovechkin said of scoring so soon after Latvia had. "After that goal, we just played better and better."
The Russians probably will have to play better when they step up a level in competition in facing Slovakia Thursday and the Czech Republic Sunday. But their opener was a good start – thanks to the old man who knew just how to set the tone and the young stud whose sense of timing couldn't have been better.
RUS 3 1 4 - 8
LAT 0 0 2 - 2
1. RUS, Zaripov (Fedorov. Nikulin) 2:38
2. RUS, Radulov (Fedorov, Kalinin) 7:46
3. RUS, Ovechkin (Semin) 19:25
Penalties - Rekis LAT (hooking) 00:19, Meija LAT (hooking 3:26, RUS (too many men) 11:18, Bartulis LAT (cross-checking) 14:37.
4. RUS, Malkin (Afinogenov, Kovalchuk) 18:18 (PPG)
Penalties - Fedorov RUS (roughing) 2:26, Vasiljevs LAT (hooking) 8:19, Zaripov RUS (interference) 10:16, Sirokovs LAT (hooking) 12:42, Karsums LAT (hooking) 16:57, Datsyuk RUS (holding) 18:26.
5. LAT, Vasiljevs (Nizivijs, Cipulis) 0:33
6. RUS, Ovechkin (Datsyuk) 0:59
7. RUS, Zaripov (Zinovyev) 1:30
8. RUS, Kovalchuck (Malkin, Tyutin) 3:04
9. LAT, Ankipans (Sprukts, Karsums) 3:35
10. RUS Morozov (Markov) 18:57
Penalties - Nikulin RUS (holding) 4:08, Vasiljevs LAT (hooking) 8:41, Lavins LAT (interference) 12:34.