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Notebook From Moscow

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
Unfriendly Confines of Home

Russia had been a strong favorite to win the 2007 IIHF World Championship here in Moscow, but that dream ended with Finland’s stunning 2-1 overtime win on Saturday afternoon. The Russians were looking to become the first host team to win the tournament since 1986, when the U.S.S.R. won gold. The tournament was also held in Moscow that year.

The Russians won the last three World Championship tournaments held in Moscow, winning gold in 1973, 1979, and 1986. The last time Team Russia failed to win gold in a Moscow World Championship was exactly 50 years ago in 1957. Sweden won the gold that year.

Saturday’s loss to Finland marked the first time Russia has ever lost a World Championship game on Moscow ice.

“M*A*S*H Unit in Moscow”
Two days ago, the Russians had what was clearly the best team at the tournament. But that was before Alexei Morozov – the tournament’s leading scorer – was lost with a knee injury. In the first period of Saturday’s game with Finland, Russia suffered two more key losses.

Defenseman Andrei Markov suffered a knee injury when Finland’s Sean Bergenheim clipped him with a knee-on-knee hit near the Finland blueline in Saturday’s first period. Markov required aid to get off the ice after the hit, but he gamely tried to play in the second frame, coming out for a couple shifts when Russia had the man advantage. But he was clearly not the same player, and he did not play again afterwards.

Later in the first, Russian captain Petr Schastlivy was felled by a check in the corner and was slow getting up. He went off to the locker room for repairs and did not return.

Russia coach Vyacheslav Bykov said after the game that Markov would not be able to play in Sunday’s bronze medal game.

Letter Man
With Schastlivy sidelined for the rest of the game before the end of the first period, the Russians attached the captain’s “C” to the sweater of defenseman Sergei Gonchar for the remainder of the contest.

All-Tournament Lines
We spent a fair bit of time earlier in the tournament praising Team Russia’s top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, and Alexander Frolov, and Team Slovakia’s trio of Marian Hossa, Pavol Demitra, and Marian Gaborik. Not that we overlooked them, but we should have mentioned Canada’s No. 1 unit of Rick Nash, Shane Doan and Matthew Lombardi.

How good have they been? At the conclusion of today’s semifinal games, the top three players of the tournament from each of the four teams were announced. Nash, Doan, and Lombardi were the three players chosen for Team Canada, which was the lone team of the four not to have a goaltender among its top three.

Team Finland’s top line of Tomi Kallio, Mikko Koivu, and Tuomo Ruutu doesn’t have the marquee value of the other trios mentioned above, but that line has generally been Finland’s best game in and game out. Ruutu and Koivu combined on the play that created the game-winning goal in Saturday’s semifinal upset of Russia.

Bronze Lining
Team Sweden center Nicklas Backstrom was understandably down after Sweden’s 4-1 loss to Team Canada in Saturday’s semifinal. But he brightened a bit when we asked him if he was at all excited about playing against Russia and Alex Ovechkin in Sunday’s bronze medal game. It’s likely Backstrom and Ovechkin will be teammates on the Capitals in 2007-08.

“Absolutely,” he beamed. “It’s going to be fun. I hope it can be a good game [Sunday] and we win the bronze medal.”

Men of Few Words
Having attended a week’s worth of post-game press conferences at the Worlds, we gained a new appreciation for the general public ire of the mainstream media. After Russia’s loss to Finland Saturday, a standing room only (and them some) pack of press was intent on scapegoating Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov, peppering him with all manner of antagonistic queries while excluding from the session any manner of commendation for Finnish coach Erkka Westerlund and his staff. Additionally, the same Russian press all but accused the Finnish coach of having orchestrated a “hit” on Russians Markov and Schastlivy.   

The coaches’ replies to the tedious and superficial interrogations were predictably curt and evasive.  The meat and potatoes of exchanges between coaches and press occurred the moment the pressers formally ended, with regional media bringing a greater professionalism and sobriety to the subjects they regularly cover than did the general press corps.

Is there an indictment to be levied against the rabid Russian media for the ferocity it demonstrated in Saturday’s post-game session? Almost certainly. The moral here is: you can traverse an ocean and 5,000 miles but not escape mainstream media malfeasance.       

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