– Serving as the encore to the sizzling Canada-Sweden game, Russia vs. Slovakia figured to have a hard time measuring up Thursday night at Canada Hockey Place -- even if, on paper, it was a far more competitive matchup.
And aside from the fine work done in either crease by Russia's Ilya Bryzgalov and Slovakia's Jaroslav Halak and a slew of open-ice body bombs from Alex Ovechkin, it didn't come close to matching that near upset of the host nation's team. Until, that is, the third period rolled around and Slovakia found that, despite playing its second game against one of the world's hockey powers in two nights, it was within striking distance of pulling off a major upset.
Marian Hossa got the Slovaks even 9:48 into the third with a between-the-circles slapper that squeezed through the ‘til-then impenetrable Ilya Bryzgalov. Tension then mounted until Pavol Demitra scored in the seventh round of the shootout to give Slovakia a 2-1 win.
The victory threw the toughest of the three groups in this Olympic tournament into an unpredictable state of confusion. And it left the door open for the Czech Republic to take charge with a victory over Latvia Thursday afternoon. The Czechs defeated the Slovaks in the teams' Olympic opener.
Trailing, 1-0, going into the third period, Slovakia was given a golden opportunity to tie it when penalties to Ovechkin and Fedor Tyutin overlapped to provide 1:14 of Slovak 5-on-3 time. With Marian Gaborik and Zdeno Chara on the points, the Slovaks worked the puck for several big rips from those top guns. But Bryzgalov, making his bid to beat out opening-game starter Evgeni Nabokov for the Russian goaltending job once medal play begins, was everywhere.
When you put Russians and Slovakians on the same sheet of ice, you think speed and you think skill. But smashmouth?
Of course, whenever you think of any of the national hockey stereotypes that become less and less appropriate the more the NHL becomes a melting pot, you discard Alex Ovechkin -- he defies traditional classification.
So perhaps it should have come as no surprise that, through 40 minutes Thursday night, the Russians and Slovakians had combined for one goal and Ovechkin had doled out four thunderous body checks all by himself.
The first came a mere 1:43 into the game, with Russia on a power play.
Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov decided to load up his No. 1 man-up unit with all of his top guns -- Ovechkin and Sergei Gonchar on the points with Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin
and Alexander Semin up front. Presumably, Bykov had puck movement and goals in mind.
Ovechkin took the assignment to mean something else. Seeing penalty-killer Lubos Bartecko coming up his wing with his head down, Ovechkin did his best Niklas Kronwall impersonation and freight-trained the Slovakian winger.
Later in the first period, Chara, whose 6-9, 255-pound frame was assigned to shadow and punish Ovechkin all night, zeroed in on the Russian superstar along the wall. Seeing Chara coming, Ovechkin braced himself and thrust his shoulder into Chara, knocking the Boston Bruins blueliner off balance.
Ovechkin opened the second period in much the same way as the first. Catching an unsuspecting Pavol Demitra wiggling out from behind the Slovakian net. Ovechkin pancaked Demitra with a flying shoulder to the chest.
Ovechkin wasn't finished. When Chara angled him off of a rush late in the period, Ovechkin stalked the big defenseman all the way up the ice and then plowed him into the boards.
The opening goal? It was scored by Alexei Morozov, who is wearing the captain's 'C' for Russia here.
Although the shot was taken by Morozov from the right circle, it deflected both off the stick of Slovakian defenseman Andrej Sekera and the back of sprawling Slovak forward Michal Handzus before sailing over the shoulder of the helpless and confused Halak.Author: John Dellapina