Russia out-duels Canada in classic
|Alexander Ovechkin's fifth goal of the Olympic tournament was all Russia would need in a 2-0 victory over Team Canada.|
By Rich Libero | NHL.com
Feb. 22, 2006
TORINO, Italy - Whenever the city of Torino decides to tear down the Esposizioni, the exposition hall that's currently a temporary Olympic hockey venue, expect the members of Canada's 2006 team to be there when the wrecking ball hits.
Team Canada ended an excruciating run of offensive futility in an exhilarating classic against their old Russian rivals. Thanks to new blood, new tactics and goals from Alexander Ovechkin and Alexei Kovalev, the Russians defeated Canada, 2-0, in a quarterfinals match to oust them from the 2006 Olympics.
The victory was Russia's first at this level since 1993. They will face Team Finland in the semifinals on Friday at 3 p.m. ET. The Czech Republic will square off against Sweden in the 10:30 a.m. ET match the same day.
"I don't think I've ever seen a Russian team drop back in a 1-4 style," Team Canada head coach Pat Quinn said. "The biggest surprise for me was that their style for years going back to the 70's was they played a 2-1-2."
These are not your grandfather's Russians. Nor are these the Canadians that many had pegged as a juggernaut.
"We didn't think scoring would be a problem," Canadian captain Joe Sakic said.
In the end, Canada failed to score a goal in 11 of its last 12 periods. They were shut out three times in this tournament and didn't score a single goal at the Torino Esposizioni, losing by a 2-0 score in every game.
The Russians eased into their game plan at times during this tournament, playing too wide open in their opening-game loss to Slovakia. They sought to batten down the hatches and succeeded with shutouts against Sweden, Kazakhstan and Canada.
The Russians said throughout the tournament that they wanted to play defense and play as a team instead of a set of highly skilled individuals. Turns out they were serious. San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov was again outstanding for the Russians, notching his third shutout and stopping 27 shots.
In their taut match Wednesday night, the Russians controlled much of the play and puck possession. Their forwards came back and played defense. They matched the Canadians in hitting and goaltending and in the end, Ovechkin was, as Quinn put it, "Johnny on the Spot", when he took a pass down low from Viktor Kozlov on the power play and top-shelfed it under the cross bar just 90 seconds into the third period.
"I am kind of surprised," Kozlov said. "Canada is so good. But we had a great team effort. The key was trying not to give them too many chances offensively because they have so many good players on offense."
Kozlov, the hulking but enigmatic New Jersey forward, outworked defenseman Chris Pronger behind the Canadian net, fought his way to the front and left a deft little pass for Ovechkin right on Martin Brodeur's doorstep.
Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals' super-rookie, demonstrated his immense skill by getting the puck up high despite being so close to the net. His response time to the pass could be measured in microseconds, his celebration by a seismograph.
|After knocking off Team Canada, Russia will face Finland in Friday's semifinal matchup. |
"Our young players are very important," defenseman Darius Kasparaitis said. "Alexander Ovechkin was the difference. When he scored that goal, he was full of joy."
The Russians then did the unthinkable by managing to hold onto the lead as Canada cranked up the chances. However, the Russians were sent to the penalty box three times in the first nine minutes of the third period and weathered each storm.
Nabokov thwarted a Joe Thornton attempt from the slot 2:30 into the period and later Brad Richards dished off to Dany Heatley while staring at what looked like an open net. Heatley was snowed under amid a pile of flying bodies and was unable to get a shot off.
With 1:01 to play in the game, Evgeni Malkin mugged Vincent Lecavalier in the Russian crease. Both were sent off, but Malkin received a match penalty. Had Canada scored, they'd have enjoyed a three-minute, 4-on-3 power play in overtime.
"I really felt strong that something good was going to happen," Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky said.
A mere 30 seconds later, Pronger was forced to hold Kovalev, ending the power play and leading to a Defensive-zone draw. Canada had pulled Brodeur for an extra attacker, but the location of the faceoff put him back in net. It made little difference as the puck soon ended up on Kovalev's stick in the right circle. He whipped the insurance goal past Brodeur with 33 seconds to go, ending Canada's hopes.
"It was intense, but it was a lot of fun," Pronger said. "You play in these 0-0 games and you sense the crowd oohing and aahing with every shot."
Canada's fans were left oohing and ahhing and then groaning as their team failed to gel as they did in Salt Lake City.
"We still were relying on our individual skills and we just didn't get over that hump that we needed to get over," Quinn said.
Meanwhile, back in Russia, fans are dancing in the streets. "We did it and we beat a great team," Ovechkin said. "Everybody in my country is jumping and drinking a lot of vodka."