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Ovechkin to help Russia challenge U.S. in semifinals

by Michael Langr / NHL.com

PRAGUE -- An evening before the semifinals of the 2015 IIHF World Championship, Prague's O2 Arena turned into a skating session for two NHL standouts who had come to help their countries in the medal round.

Before Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec took the ice after joining the host Czech Republic ahead of their semifinal against Canada, left wing Alex Ovechkin of Russia skated for about 20 minutes concluding a day when he landed in Prague, Czech Republic after an overseas flight.

The Russians cancelled their practice Friday, but Ovechkin wanted to adjust and shake off jetlag.

"The ice here is different. You have to prepare yourself for bigger ice, so it's normal for me," the Washington Capitals captain told a big crowd of reporters Friday in Prague. "I'm sleepy, but I know this situation. I'm gonna stay up until 10 or 11 and deal with the time difference."

Ovechkin showed up in Prague two days after Washington was eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Capitals lost Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the New York Rangers 2-1 in overtime at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday despite Ovechkin scoring the opening goal.

"It's a tough time, but that's what it is. You have to suck it up and move forward," he said.

The next day, he accepted an invitation to join Russia and immediately took a plane to Prague.

"Obviously it was right away when I talked to the Russian (Ice Hockey) Federation, so it was not a big problem," Ovechkin said. "I have to say thanks very much to the Washington organization, coaches and GM to understand my situation and to let me go right away."

In the meantime, the Russians advanced to the semifinals by defeating Sweden 5-3 in Ostrava and moved to Prague to get ready for the United States, which advanced by beating Switzerland 3-1. The United States defeated Russia 4-2 in their preliminary-round game.

"I expect us to play our best game," Ovechkin said. "Obviously the Americans have a very tough team. So we're going to do our best."

Ovechkin could face either Canada, led by Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins), or the home Czech team led by Jaromir Jagr (Florida Panthers) in either the gold- or bronze-medal game Sunday, depending on the outcomes of the semifinals. Canada faces the Czechs at 9:15 a.m. ET, and the United States plays Russia at 1:15 p.m.

Ovechkin, who led the NHL with 53 goals this season, will be playing in his 11th World Championship. He has 31 goals and 57 points in 65 games at the tournament and helped Russia win the gold medal in 2008, 2012 and 2014. He never hesitated to join the Russian team after the Capitals elimination.

"Just to play for my country, our fans, my friends and family," he said explaining his motivation. "It's a huge opportunity for us to have another success, so why not?"

Adjusting quickly to his new teammates shouldn't be a problem on a team so familiar to Ovechkin, featuring other star forwards Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues) and Ilya Kovalchuk.

"I know everyone. Every player and the entire coaching staff," Ovechkin said.

But to adjust immediately to the international game and play against opponents who have been together throughout the entire tournament is challenging even for a player of his caliber.

"Of course, it's a hard situation, because you come here just for the last two games," he said. "You don't have lots of time to see what's happening and to get ready. But we're old enough and experienced enough to make some changes or to do whatever is needed."

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