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Russia searches for answers after convincing loss

by Shawn P. Roarke
VANCOUVER -- For the Russians, it was not supposed to end like this.
In this Olympic tournament of hockey heavyweights, Russia was the odds-on favorite to go the distance, not get knocked out by one punch.
But, that is exactly what happened Wednesday night in its Olympic tournament quarterfinal match against the host Canadians at Canada Hockey Place, losing a 7-3 decision that wasn't even that close.
"They came out like gorillas out of a cage," is how goalie Ilya Bryzgalov saw it.
At the time, Bryzgalov was sitting on the bench, watching the Canadian forwards storm starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Before the carnage was over, Bryzgalov would be in the nets himself, replacing Bryzgalov after he allowed six goals on 23 shots in just 24:07 of action.
Wednesday's result was the second-biggest defeat Russia has suffered in Olympic Winter Games history. In 1994, the Russians lost 5-0 to Finland. Wednesday also marked the first time since 1960 -- and 8-5 loss to these same Canadians -- that Russia had allowed so many goals.
Afterward, Bryzgalov said of the loss: "It's a disaster. End of the world."
So, what happened to turn the expected three-period heavyweight slugfest into a one-punch nightmare of a KO for the Russians?
Nobody seems to know exactly.
But, there is little doubt that the autopsy into Russia's stunning flameout in men's hockey will be a lengthy one, involving some serious soul searching from a country that will host the Olympics in four years when they head to Sochi.
Talking points, though, are already starting to bubble to the surface.
Some say there was too little chemistry on the team because of the inclusion of nine players from the Kontinental Hockey League, the pro league in Russia.
Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov denied that there was a rift.
Yet, there is no denying that several of the KHL players, especially defenseman Ilya Nikulin and Konstantin Korneyev, were overwhelmed by Canada's physical presence and the ability to establish a punishing cycle.
Generating down-low pressure is more difficult on the big ice surfaces used in Russia and often a staple of their game, so some of the Russian defense struggled with it
Others are blaming Bykov, saying he did not adapt to the game as it played out before.
Clearly, Nabokov did not bring his 'A' game, yet Bykov waited until the game was out of reach before going to Bryzgalov. Also, he did not try to get his top forward line -- Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Evgeni Malkin -- away from the matchup against Canadian defensemen Shea Weber and Scott Niedermayer.
Team Canada coach Mike Babcock, despite having to change first at stoppages, was able to get those two defenders -- as well as forwards Rick Nash, Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards -- against Russia's top line at will.
"It was a very strong team today playing against us, and we couldn't adjust to the pressure by the Canadian team," Bykov said through an interpreter. "We tried to play different ways, but everything failed."
Yet others will point to the way the game played out. Canada got an early goal -- by Ryan Getzlaf after a brilliant rush by defenseman Dan Boyle -- and then was able to use the momentum generated by a rabidly partisan crowd to steamroll the Russians.
"The first goal, I thought it came too quick," Nabokov said. "They scored the goal and then after that they kept coming and we weren't able to stop the bleeding."
"It's really simple, we lost all the battles.  We turned the puck over too much. We lost every aspect of the game. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. We lost the battles around the walls. It's a simple game, hockey, you know." -- Ilya Bryzgalov
Bryzgalov was even blunter in his post-game assessment.
"It's really simple, we lost all the battles," he said. "We turned the puck over too much. We lost every aspect of the game. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. We lost the battles around the walls. It's a simple game, hockey, you know."
As difficult as it is to accept that the Russians so convincingly lost the simple game they were talking about, the Russians tried to comfort themselves with the fact that these two super hockey powers will collide again soon.
Maybe, just maybe, the result will be different then. Ovechkin, for one, certainly believes in that theory.
"Don't judge our team by one game," he cautioned. "We are still strong.
"They were simply better tuned than we were (Wednesday). We are practically at the same level, but today they had more focus."

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