VANCOUVER -- Alex Ovechkin showed the hockey world Sunday the other reason why he's such a dangerous player: His hits can matter as much as his goals.
Ovechkin obliterated Jaromir Jagr with a game-changing hit inside the center ice circle early in the third period and seconds later Evgeni Malkin finished off a pass from Alexander Semin for what proved to be the winning goal in Russia's 4-2 victory over the Czech Republic.
"I see him coming and my first reaction was to play the puck," Ovechkin told NHL.com moments after he walked off the ice. "He made a move to my side and I just hit him."
Ovechkin wanted to downplay the significance of the hit, but it clearly altered the game.
Jagr, a mammoth of a man at 235 pounds, was carrying the puck through the middle with his head up, but he couldn't deke in time to get out of the way of Ovechkin and his 220-pound body. Ovechkin lined him up and, with his elbow down, connected first with Jagr's chest. The blow snapped Jagr's head back and the big man went crumbling to the ice.
The puck redirected the other way and eventually Semin found Malkin, who was cutting through the right circle, for a one-timer from his left knee. Tomas Vokoun couldn't go post-to-post in time to stop Malkin's shot.
"Everybody wants to play physical and give everything they have," Ovechkin said. "I gave all I can to this game."
Jagr has said in the past that he believes Ovechkin is the best player in the NHL -- and Ovechkin respects Jagr, too. In fact, after the game Jagr, who blamed himself for letting his team down by turning over the puck, told NHL.com of Ovechkin, "no question about it, that's what makes him great."
Jagr was traded away by the Capitals in 2004, making way for Ovechkin's star to rise in D.C. starting in 2005 after the work stoppage.
"I respect everybody, but on the ice you don't have friends, you don't have nobody, only your teammates," Ovechkin said. "You play right now for your country, and it doesn't matter who you play against."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org