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Russia Dominates Latvia, 8-2

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
VANCOUVER – The day before, Sergei Fedorov said that even though he was a hockey generation older than many of the most prominent players on his team, he was not a coach and didn't intend to make speeches.

Instead, the 40-year-old, three-time Stanley Cup-winner planned to just go out and have a little fun with the kids – and provide his leadership by proving he still could keep up.

That's just what Fedorov did Tuesday night at Canada Hockey Place. Before Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk buried Latvia under an avalanche of goals, it was Fedorov who set up the two early tallies that ensured that the Russians would have their wits about them as they began their quest for 2010 Olympic gold with an 8-2 victory.

"We have a Malkin and an Ovechkin, so it's hard not to talk about 'The Show,'" a smiling Fedorov had told following Team Russia's lone pre-Games practice Monday. "But I agree with you, I like to think our team is here to do the job and play well and play in harmony and find that fine balance among ourselves and within our lineup.

"Basically, we're coming with good solid hockey with a winning attitude."

That, and some of the brightest stars in the NHL galaxy.

And after Fedorov used his veteran savvy and still-pumping legs to set up goals in the first 7:36 by fellow KHLers Danis Zaripov and Alexander Radulov, Ovechkin pumped home two goals and Malkin and Kovalchuk added a goal and assist each.

Sharp for two periods, Russian goaltender Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks faltered twice during a third period at either end that had to have Team Russia GM and international goaltending legend shaking his head in disgust. Within the dizzying first 3:35 of the third period that had begun with Russia holding a 4-0 lead, five goals were scored.

The first and fifth were off Latvian sticks. The second, third and fourth were goals by Ovechkin, Zaripov and Kovalchuk that broke the game open.

Ovechkin, the NHL goal-scoring champion the last two seasons, picked right up where he had left off in his last Olympics. Having scored a team-leading five goals in Torino in 2006, Ovechkin beat overmatched Latvian goaltender Edgars Masalskis on a pin-point one-timer late in the first period and rising wrist shot off the rush in the third.

So much for concern about whether there would be enough pucks to go around for all of the Russian forwards who love to carry and shoot it.

"They're great players and we have great chemistry," said center Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit, who played pivot for Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. "I think it's going to be lots of fun – lots of fun for us and for you, too."

The show began early, but not with the big-name stars playing leading roles.

Rather, it was the venerable elder statesman of Team Russia who performed the early magic that ensured that the Big Red Machine would not sputter out of this Olympic gate.

On his first shift of the game, just 2:38 from the opening face-off, Fedorov took a feed in the left corner and unleashed his 22 years of professional experience upon helpless Latvian defenseman Guntis Galvins. Drawing the blueliner to him almost as if he were administering hypnosis, Fedorov then saucered a perfect pass across the goal mouth that landed gently in the sweet spot of linemate Danis Zaripov, who tucked it into the gaping net for an instant Russian lead.

A little more than five minutes later, Fedorov was at it again. This time, dashing through the Latvian defense to take a feed from Dmitri Kalinin, Fedorov snapped a shot on goal that produced a juicy rebound that a kneeling Alexander Radulov nudged home to make it 2-0.

Fedorov later in the period absolutely buried Latvian defenseman Rodrigo Lavins with a crushing body check. Not bad for a guy who was thought by most North Americans to have entered retirement.

When Latvia finally got its legs going to produce a couple of fine scoring chances, it appeared as if the former Soviet Republic's team might make a game of it – if not pull off the same kind of tournament-rattling performance that ended in a 3-3 tie with Team USA in their opening game in Torino in 2006. But Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks, Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov's choice to get the opening game nod -- with Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov going in Thursday night's game against Slovakia – was quite sharp.

And then Washington Capitals teammates Semin and Ovechkin combined for the kind of play that both exemplified Russia's electrifying quick-strike ability and completely sapped whatever energy Latvia had for a comeback try.

Coming out from behind the Latvian net, Semin lifted Galvins' stick and stripped the puck from the Latvian defenseman in one swift maneuver. Semin then whistled a pass out of the left corner to Ovechkin, who had found a soft spot between the circles. Ovechkin's one-time shot off Semin's pass beat Latvian goaltender Edgars Masalskis just inside the left post with 35 seconds remaining in the first period.

Just like that, it was 3-0 and goal differential – a tiebreaking criterion in this tournament -- rather than wins and losses appeared to be the only thing left to be decided over the final 40 minutes.

To their credit, the Latvians did not cave. Rather, they came out with renewed resolve in a second period that began with Nabokov having to stack his pads to deny Martins Cipulis on a sharp one-timer and then flash some leather to snatch an Armands Berzins shot that was headed for twine.

However, with Nabokov making his case to be the go-to goaltender before Bykov and Team Russia general manager and international goaltending legend Vladislav Tretiak, the Latvians could not break through. That left the finishing touch on the second period to a couple of Russian stars who had not yet shined.

Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils got things by walloping a slap shot from the left circle. It struck linemate Maxim Afinogenov in front and plopped down for Malkin to backhand it home with 1:42 left in the period.

Author: John Dellapina
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