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Russia 2, Canada 0 @NHLdotcom

TURIN, Italy (AP) - Wayne Gretzky couldn't stand to watch any longer, heading to the exit in the final minute.

Russia's youngsters were beating up his hand-picked old pros from Canada and, with 33 seconds left and his eyes red with tears, he bolted. No gold medal for mighty Canada, and no comfort at the Olympics for The Great One, who placed the blame for this failure squarely on himself.

Russia won 2-0 Wednesday in the Olympic men's quarterfinals to end another disappointing Winter Games for the country that invented the sport.

"This is special, very special, for our country," said Alexander Ovechkin, who scored the pivotal first goal early in the third period.

Not for Canada, it wasn't.

The Canadians arrived in Turin last week amid the distraction of Gretzky's link to an alleged sports gambling ring and will leave it with doubts about his personnel decisions. Doubts he himself seems to be having.

Before the games, Gretzky said he would be blamed if Canada lost because of the gambling probe. He will, too - but mostly for the decision to send aging legs such as 36-year-old Joe Sakic, 34-year-old Rob Blake and 34-year-old Adam Foote to a tournament that requires the gold medalist to play eight games in a demanding and energy-draining 12 days.

"I'll take all, deservedly so, the responsibility for not winning," said Gretzky, Team Canada's executive director. "That's the position I'm in and the responsibility I have."

Gretzky steered Canada to its first gold medal in 50 years in 2002, so he decided to go with a similar cast of veterans and old reliables in Turin rather than NHL youngsters such as Jason Spezza, Eric Staal and Sidney Crosby.

But the older Canadians not only couldn't get goals - they scored in one of their final 12 periods - they couldn't skate with the rapid Russians: the 20-year-old Ovechkin, the 19-year-old Evgeni Malkin, the 22-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk.

Now, they'll head home again with no medal for the second time in the last three Olympics.

Ask why he left his private box with 33 seconds left, Gretzky said, his eyes red with tears, "I wanted to change our luck."

The Canadians needed a lot more than luck, the way the Russians were skating through them, generating rush after rush and controlling the tempo. Russia defenseman Darius Kasparaitis said the kids were the difference, especially Ovechkin, the top candidate for the NHL rookie of the year award with the Washington Capitals and soon-to-be-superstar.

"Our young players are very important," Kasparaitis said.

For Russia, the challenge now is to put a big victory behind them and get refocused on Finland on Friday, if it wins, the gold medal game against the Czechs or Sweden.

Canada, meanwhile, heads home.

"It's nobody else's fault," Gretzky said.

Actually, it is. Proven scorers such as Vincent Lecavalier, Rick Nash, Joe Thornton and Sakic did almost nothing offensively, even against lower-talent teams such as Switzerland, which won 2-0 in one of the biggest upset losses in Canadian history.

"I'm kind of surprised because Canada is so good," Viktor Kozlov said. "The key today was we tried not to give them too many chances offensively because they have so many good players. Both goalies were good but, thank God, Alexander Ovechkin scored."

The Russians were the highest-scoring team in qualifying play with 23 goals in five games, many of them generated by the next generation of Russian hockey.

Think Spezza, Staal and Crosby weren't sitting around, watching and wondering what they could have done against Russia's speedsters and playmakers?

"I don't know how you explain it," said Sakic, who scored one goal in six games - three of them Canadian shutout losses. "It just didn't happen - whether the confidence wasn't there or what."

The breakthrough goal by Ovechkin came 90 seconds in the third period with Russia on a power play after Nabokov, making 27 saves in the biggest game of his career, matched the sport's best big-game goalie, Martin Brodeur. After Chris Pronger couldn't clear the puck from behind the net, Ovechkin kept it in the Canadian end by sweeping it toward Kozlov while skating off-balance. Kozlov gathered it behind the goal line and fed it back to Ovechkin, who wristed it past Brodeur for his fifth goal in six games.

"I thought coming in, they were probably the most talented team," Gretzky said. "The Russian team was better than we were tonight. There's no excuse about that."

In the stands, hundreds of Russian fans who chanted "Russ-i-a, Russ-i-a," the entire game stood and cheered, blew horns and rang cowbells, sensing the first goal might be the winning goal.

The Canadians pressed and pressed for the tying goal, but could never get it. Alex Kovalev scored on another power play with 23 seconds left, immediately after a flurry in which Nabokov made a series of big saves from all angles, one while sliding on his stomach.

Russia and Canada have been hockey's biggest rivals since the famed 1972 Summit Series won by Canada, when Russia was part of the Soviet Union, but the rivalry has been fairly one-sided in the Olympics, with Russia or the U.S.S.R. winning eight of nine. The teams had not met since Russia - playing under the banner of the Unified Team following the U.S.S.R.'s breakup - won the gold in Albertville in 1992.

There was many big names from the past in the stands Wednesday, including Gretzky, who starred in the 1987 Soviet Union-Canada Summit Series, Russian Federation sports chief Slava Fetisov and Russian general manager Pavel Bure. After Kovalev scored, Fetisov and Bure hugged each other, bouncing up and down.

By that time, Gretzky was looking devastated. The loss rivaled that 2-1 defeat to the gold medalist Czech Republic in Nagano in 1998, when Gretzky wasn't chosen for the decisive shootout.

"Maybe this is a little tougher," Gretzky said. "(But) Is this the end of Canada hockey? No, we'll be back."

As it moves on to the semifinals, Kasparaitis said Russia must quickly forget about one of its biggest Olympic victories in years.

"We want to have a gold medal," Kasparaitis said. "That's what we want. And when we win that, then we're going to remember we beat Canada."

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