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Knee-jerks: Russia 4, Sweden 2

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
MOSCOW—May 7, 2007 - Today we continue an OFB tradition and provide knee-jerk reactions to the Russia-Sweden game in Khodynka Arena. John Keeley and I attended the game while Mike Vogel and Sean Parker caught Canada-USA in Arena Mystischi.

A surprisingly chippy game tonight, with Sweden running the Russian goalie a few times and Russia angrily responding. Sweden dominated early, but the momentum shifted early in the second period when a Swedish shot hit the post, careened off the Russian goalie Alex Eremenko's shoulder, and skittered through the other side of the crease out of harm's way. Russia scored a few moments later, and what could have been a 2-1 Swedish lead became a 2-1 Russian lead. From that point Russia controlled most of the play, though Sweden's goal at the end of the second to make it 2-2 kept things close.

  • Entertaining moment during team introductions: The “Mission: Impossible” theme played as the PA announcer introduced the Swedish players. A fun little tweak of the visiting team by the hometown arena staff.
  • altCapitals prospect Nicklas Backstrom notched a beautiful primary assist from behind Russia's net.  He fed a quick pass to Alex Steen who banged it home while falling to the ice (see photo). We asked him about the play in a postgame interview, and he said it was an instinctive reaction once he saw Steen driving the net: “I just saw him there . . .  It was easy for me.” He went on to say he was happier with his performance this game than Sunday's against Finland and feels he played with more confidence, but still hopes to improve.
  • Backstrom left the ice late in the third period in obvious pain, gingerly climbing over the boards. When asked if the injury was serious, he responded, “No, no, it's nothing.” So breathe easy, Caps fans.
  • Alexey Morozov's penalty shot in the first period was a thing of beauty.
  • Kovalchuk skated with passion for sixty minutes tonight — something one does not often see from him in a Thrashers uniform. He made a few incredible dekes and was explosive and physical, even starting a scrum at one point (that the linesmen quickly defused).
  • Malkin was electrifying. With Ovechkin serving his one-game suspension, Malkin seemed the clear crowd favorite. The cute female ushers in our section put aside any pretense of objectivity; they literally jumped and shrieked whenever he made a play.
  • As intense as Malkin was, the crowd was even wilder. Their angry whistling was deafening when the referee (correctly) disallowed a Russian goal due to goaltender interference. Every time Sweden had the puck or the referee made a questionable call, the crowd's deafening whistles rained down on the ice. And the Russian fan's sustained roar as the clock ticked down left a lasting impression on these North American hockey observers.
  • Heading into elimination play, three forward lines clearly stand out to the Washington Capital's team of correspondents:
  1. Slovakia's Marian Hossa, Pavol Demetria, and Marion Gaborik
  2. Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, and Alexander Frolov
  3. USA's Eric Cole, Paul Stastny, and Lee Stempniak

altSergei Gonchar, when asked if this could be the best Team Russia he's played on, replied, “One of them, yes. The biggest difference is we're playing [our system] much better, we're having fun, and we're playing well as a team. That's the thing that's giving us that extra boost of energy.” They certainly showed it tonight.

Sweden played well early, but Russia dominated as the game progressed. Undefeated Russia looks to be the favorite in the tournament; if they maintain this level of skill and intensity, it's hard to imagine them falling short of gold.

Our Three Stars of the Game
1.    Alexey Morozov, Russia
2.    Evgeni Malkin, Russia
3.    Ilya Kovalchuk, Russia

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