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Russia 9, Latvia 2

NHL.com @NHL

TURIN, Italy (AP) - With every goal he scored, Ilya Kovalchuk turned the beat of the Latvian drums into Russia's march to the hockey quarterfinals.

Kovalchuk scored four times - his first goals of these Olympics - and Russia advanced to the men's hockey final eight with a 9-2 victory over Latvia on Sunday.

After dropping the opener to Slovakia 5-3, Russia has won three straight by a combined score of 15-2.

"I don't think we've played our best hockey yet," said Kovalchuk, who is tied for second in the NHL with 37 goals.

That's a scary thought for the rest of the field, especially with the recent struggles of Canada, the U.S. and the Czech Republic.

Kovalchuk scored twice in each of the first two periods and took the starch out of the Latvian supporters, who again rocked the arena with drums, horns, bells and whistles. They were later out by those on the Russian side.

Evgeni Nabokov, with consecutive shutout victories over Sweden and Kazakhstan, was touched for a goal but improved on his perfect record.

Russia's victory put the eight-time Olympic champions into the quarterfinals and clinched a spot for Sweden, too. Slovakia qualified for the next round by beating the U.S. on Saturday, leaving just one spot open in Group B.

The Americans, Russia's final round-robin opponent before the quarterfinals, have the inside track to move on since Latvia can only tie them in the standings and is well behind on the goal differential tiebreaker.

"We have to raise our game and play our best hockey in the medal round," said Alexei Yashin, the New York Islanders captain who had a goal and two assists. "It was a good practice today because I think every line was clicking."

The trio of Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and team captain Alex Kovalev busted out a day after Russia struggled to a 1-0 victory over winless Kazakhstan.

"Everybody played well," Russian general manager Pavel Bure said. "I'm happy for Ilya, but most importantly it doesn't matter who is going to score as long as we are going to win."

Latvia has hit the skids since surprising the U.S. with a 3-3 tie in the opener last Wednesday. Since that highlight, the Latvians are 0-3 while being outscored 21-6.

Arturs Irbe took the brunt of the attack from Russia, giving up five goals - three to Kovalchuk - on 17 shots. He was replaced by Edgars Masalskis 7:58 into the second period.

Maxim Sushinsky's goal during Russia's 5-on-3 power play made it 2-0 at 9:15 of the first, but Aigars Cipruss' short-handed tally just 40 seconds later cut the deficit in half and put some pep back into the Latvian drum beat.

Kovalchuk, who had just one assist in three games, scored again at 12:36. He made it 4-1 at 3:32 of the second. That left Latvian fans struggling to keep up the energy.

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