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Russia eliminates Canada

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
February 23, 2006

TURIN, Italy (CP) -- They were defending champions with big names and big skills, but Team Canada couldn't score.

That's why Canadian hockey's dream team is going home early after a stunning 2-0 loss to Russia in the Olympic hockey quarter-final Wednesday.

"We weren't as good a team as we needed to be to advance,'' summed up head coach Pat Quinn.

Canada was shut out in three of its last four games - a shocking statistic on a team that boasts top NHL stars like Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla, Dany Heatley, Vincent Lecavalier and Joe Thornton.

It was a team earning a collective $97.9 million US in the NHL this season, and it couldn't score.

In their last 12 periods of Olympic hockey, the Canadians managed only three goals - all in the first period of a 3-2 win over the Czech Republic in the preliminary round on Tuesday.

The 13 Canadians forwards alone have scored more than 280 goals in the NHL this season.

"It's one of those questions we don't have an answer to,'' said team executive director Wayne Gretzky. "When you lose, typically people point fingers at the quality players, superstars.

"But to go 11 of 12 periods without scoring, it's not one or two or three players, it's collectively the whole team.''

It was Alexander Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals rookie scoring sensation, who broke the deadlock between hockey's two superpowers with a power-play goal 90 seconds into the third period.

Russian captain Alexei Kovalev added another power-play goal with 23 seconds remaining.

Canada thought it had a goal late in the final period, but American referee Dennis LaRue ruled he had blown the whistle before Thornton pushed the puck in. There was reportedly a TV replay that showed otherwise, but it's too late now.

Quinn said Canada was "stiffed'' by the call.

It was still a rousing game for the 4,130 fans at Torino Esposizioni, a game with skill level and intensity fit for a final.

The win moves Russia into the semifinals against Finland on Friday and bundles Canada out of the tournament.

"We tried to score goals and help the team win, but it came down to an inch here and an inch there and we didn't score,'' said downcast winger Martin St. Louis. "We worked hard. Maybe sometimes we worked badly, but it wasn't from a lack of effort.''

It was partly from a lack of punch on the power play.

Canada went 0-for-eight against Russia and five-for-39 in six games, but three power-play goals came in a tournament-opening 7-2 win over host Italy.

At the Esposizioni, the event's secondary arena, Canada did not score a goal, losing to Switzerland, Finland and Russia, all by 2-0 scores. At the main rink, Palasport Olympico, they were 3-0 and scored 15 goals.

"If you're going to score, it usually takes some good teamwork and we weren't as good a team as we needed to be,'' said Quinn. "That's why guys with good offensive talent didn't seem to finish off.''

It was all so different in 2002, when Quinn's team marched to the gold medal in Salt Lake City, always managing to get the goal it needed to win.

What worked in Salt Lake didn't in Turin, where European NHL players seemed to be able to slip back into their national systems, despite fatigue and jet-lag, while the North American players couldn't seem to adjust. The Americans were also eliminated Wednesday with a 4-3 loss to Finland.

Still, Canada played the Russians evenly. It came down to which team would score first.

"There's no room for error when you get to the quarter-finals,' said defenceman Adam Foote. "Both teams know that.

"It was a 1-0 hockey game. That's just the way it was. We could easily have been on the other side.''

It was a huge win for Russia, which seems finally to have its players committed to team play. Russians teams in the past decade have mostly been a motley group of individuals, but this one played solid defensively and got goals from its very talented forwards.

"That's the best Russian team I've played yet,'' said veteran defenceman Rob Blake. "I think you have to credit some of their young stars _ Ovechkin, (Ilya) Kovalchuk _ and there are guys who have been around like Kovalev and (Alexei) Yashin. They're very talented.''

Added Yashin: "It's a great feeling to beat the Canadian team because they're so strong and there's so much tradition in Canadian hockey. We took a lot of pride in that.'

It was the first time Canada failed to reach the semifinals in three tries since full participation of NHL players began with the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan, when it lost the bronze medal game.

The game had plenty of scoring chances at both ends, but did not produce a goal until Todd Bertuzzi was sent off for interference in the opening minute of the third period.

Canada had trouble clearing its zone and Viktor Kozlov jumped on a loose puck and fed it to Ovechkin for a shot into an open side.

The large contingent of Russians in the near-sellout crowd went wild as a joyful Ovechkin touched gloves with his teammates at the bench.

Canada pressed hard for the equalizer, but could not beat goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.

Russia outshot Canada 33-27 overall.

It was Canada's first Olympic meeting with the Russians since losing the 1992 gold medal game at Albertville, France, in 1992. Despite the dearth of goals, it was a rousing, physical game.

The Russians, knowing Martin Brodeur tweaked a lingering knee injury in a 3-2 win over the Czech Republic on Tuesday, crashed the crease more than once, but the veteran goaltender held his ground and produced his best game of the tournament.

Canada had a setback at 16:52 of the first period when first-line winger Simon Gagne was helped off the ice favouring his right knee after a collision with defenceman Darius Kasparaitis during a power play.

Kasparaitis threw a low hip check that sent Gagne into the air, but no penalty was called.

Gagne returned for a handful of shifts in the second period, but then stayed on the bench.

Gagne and defenceman Wade Redden were also troubled with groin injuries.

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