QUEBEC CITY -
|Ilya Kovalchuk broke his scoring slump tallying both the game-tying and overtime winning goals. |
The sleeping giant in the Russian lineup awoke just in time.
Atlanta Thrashers scorer Ilya Kovalchuk, held without a goal through the semifinal of the 2008 World Championships, found the back of the net twice in the gold-medal game -- scoring the game-tying goal with 5:14 left in regulation and then the overtime winner on a power-play 2:42 into the extra period -- to give Russia its first World Championship since 1993 with a 5-4 win over Canada.
"God was on our side a little more than them," Kovalchuk said. "In overtime, they take that penalty. That's the new rules -- I don't know if it's good or it's bad, but it worked for us."
Kovalchuk was referring to the delay-of-game call assessed to Canadian forward Rick Nash just two minutes into overtime.
Going into the third period of the gold-medal game, Kovalchuk wasn't sure if anything was ever going to go his way, personally, again. For a man that can virtually score goals in his sleep, the fact that he had gone eight-plus games without a goal was mind-boggling. After all, this was a player that had 52 goals and 87 points for Atlanta this season.
For much of the tournament, there was little jump in Kovalchuk's game. His frustration was evident as he took a number of retaliatory penalties and was even suspended at one point in the tournament for receiving two game misconducts.
But Kovalchuk did his best to not let the pressure get to him when it counted most. And finally, his breaks came.
"I knew the team depended on me and I'm there to score goals to win, so I just keep going; but I wanted to help and do that," Kovalchuk said. "I was getting frustrated, but you have to fight through these things."
Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov was happy for his star winger and told the media that he and his team never doubted Kovalchuk. While less than pleased with Kovalchuk's propensity to take foolish penalties and let his frustration get the better of him, Bykov applauded his player him for his resilience and determination.
"This is hockey and that's going to happen, suspensions are part of the game," Bykov said. "Kovalchuk showed a lot of confidence and we knew he would come back. He believes in the team and we believe in him. I'm happy for him."
According to Kovalchuk, the game-winner was a product of a play the Russians have been practicing throughout the tournament. So when the opportunity presented itself after Nash's penalty, Kovalchuk was ready to seize the opportunity. It didn't hurt that he had gotten that monkey off his back with the game-tying goal earlier in the game.
"I had finally scored, so I wasn't thinking about it anymore," he said. "So when we got the power play, we knew what we wanted to do because we practiced it a lot and when it was there I was ready."
Washington's Alex Ovechkin, a finalist for the NHL's Hart Trophy, knows a little about seizing the moment. He never had doubts when it came to Kovalchuk, but was still happy that Kovalchuk picked the gold-medal game to deliver.
"That's what superstars do, they get the big ones," said Ovechkin, who had two assists in the game and was selected to the media all-star team. "We knew he would come through because he's just such a great player, so that wasn't a surprise. I'm excited for him and our team."
They ask me every day when I might score and I tell them 'soon'. I guess it doesn't matter how many, just when; and it came at the right time. - Ilya Kovalchuk
Defenseman Andrei Markov also wasn't surprised by Kovalchuk's clutch performance.
"He has heart and you know with that and his skill, he will play well and come up big," he said. "I'm happy for him and we knew he would come through."
Kovalchuk admitted his teammates had been ribbing him about his goal drought. That all stopped Sunday.
"They ask me every day when I might score and I tell them 'soon,' " he said. "I guess it doesn't matter how many, just when; and it came at the right time."
For Kovalchuk and his teammates, this was bittersweet revenge as Russia was able to beat the team that beat it in the 2007 gold-medal game in Moscow. Now, Russia has returned the favor and beaten its North American rival in its backyard.
"This is just a huge win for Russia and I'm proud to be a part of this," Kovalchuk said. "I'm so happy for our fans and the team."
Author: James Murphy | NHL.com Correspondent