| PARTICIPATING RED WINGS |
|PAVEL DATSYUK |
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-- VANCOUVER --
The electric atmosphere inside Canada Hockey Place before Russia and Canada even took to the ice was supposed to be a precursor to the dream game in these Olympics.
We were all anticipating heart pounding, pulsating moments. Paramedics across Canada were on call. Emergency switchboards were expected to light up.
But Team Canada had other plans. The hosts of this tournament made it known relatively early in Wednesday's quarterfinal round matchup against the Russians that nobody in the Great White North ought to worry. Canada jumped out to a three-goal lead after a dominant first period and just kept coming before finally, and mercifully, it finished stomping all over Russia and its IIHF No. 1 world ranking. The game ended 7-3 in favor of the Canadians, who beat the Russians in the Olympics for the first time since an 8-5 victory in Squaw Valley 50 years ago.
Canada will play Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET against the winner of Wednesday's late matchup between Sweden and Slovakia. The winner advances to Sunday's gold medal game.
"We were obviously prepared for a tough, tough game. We were mentally ready," Canada captain Scott Niedermayer told NHL.com. "I think the big thing was we did get those turnovers early and we made them pay. Sometimes if you get those turnovers and you don't score you can get down, but we were able to turn them into some goals."
The sidebar matchup in this highly anticipated rivalry game never materialized as neither Sidney Crosby nor Alex Ovechkin played a big role. In fact, there were 10 goals scored and neither No. 87 nor No. 8 factored into any of them.
Ovechkin's problems were due to the new line Canada coach Mike Babcock put together.
Babcock used Jonathan Toews between Mike Richards and Rick Nash to shut down Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin. Scott Niedermayer and Shea Weber filled out Canada's five-man unit, which made Russia's top line look ordinary.
To make matters even worse for the Russians, Nash and Weber each scored goals when Ovechkin, Malkin and Semin were on the ice.
"That's the stuff you dream about as a kid, playing in those big situations against the best players in the world," Weber told NHL.com. "It's not an easy task by any means, but I thought we did a good job as a team."
Canada owned the first period and headed into the intermission with a 4-1 lead and a 21-12 advantage in shots. It was actually amazing that Russia goalie Evgeni Nabokov didn't get pulled after giving up three goals, and then he went ahead and gave up a fourth, too.
"How we start the game; it's like small kids and big kids play against each other and big kids dominate," Ovechkin told NHL.com. "They got the puck deep, used their power and they scored goals."
Finally, 4:07 into the second period, after Canada scored its sixth goal and second in 57 seconds, Russia coach Vyacheslav Bykov pointed at Ilya Bryzgalov and told him to go stop the bleeding. Canada needed less than six minutes to beat him, too.
Nabokov was credited with 17 saves.
"You wouldn't expect a start like that, but that's the way we wanted to come out, just flying," Nash told NHL.com. "We finally started to bury our good chances. That was the difference."
Bryzgalov, who many thought was Russia's best option in net anyway, settled into a groove and was able to keep the Canadian scoring machine down. But the damage had already been done. The last 20 minutes were a mere formality.
"It just shows the character of the team," defenseman Dan Boyle told NHL.com. "Obviously, we didn't have a great start to the tournament, but we showed up (Tuesday) night (in an 8-2 win over Germany) and we showed up tonight and we had a big first period. It's a credit to the players we have and the team we have."
Boyle, who Babcock said "was doing a little too much thinking" in Sunday's 5-3 loss to Team USA, got Canada going with a goal and two assists in the first period. He had a great end-to-end rush to set up Ryan Getzlaf's goal just 2:21 into the game and close to 10 minutes later his power-play wrister from the top of the left circle went through Nabokov's legs for a 2-0 lead.
"I welcomed him tonight back after the game so it was good to see," Babcock said. "Who knows why that happens to a guy? You get into a different situation and you're not comfortable enough. I think he'll be back now and playing.
"I just know when you're Boyler's size (5-11, 192 pounds), you can't be out there and be a stay-at-home, checking defenseman," Babcock continued. "He plays on instincts, and I thought he was good for our group tonight. Our back end was way more mobile than it has been all tournament, and it really helped us out."
Nash dashed Nabokov and the Russian D to make it 3-0 just 46 seconds after Boyle scored. The building was so loud they probably could hear the roar up in Whistler.
"We knew there was going to be a huge crowd with huge excitement, and we didn't want to let it get to us in a negative way," Nash said. "We tried to have fun with it, and I think it worked."
Russia struck back when Dmitri Kalinin's harmless-looking shot from the point found its way through traffic and past Roberto Luongo (25 saves) with 5:21 left in the first, but Brenden Morrow struck with a backhanded wraparound -- a shot Nabokov should have stopped -- less than four minutes later.
Corey Perry and Weber scored within less than a minute of each other early in the second period to chase Nabokov and give Canada a 6-1 lead. Maxim Afinogenov scored 39 seconds after Weber, but Perry converted on a 3-on-2 at 9:51 and it was 7-2. Sergei Gonchar's power-play goal at 11:40 turned out to be the game's last score.
"The last couple of games, facing elimination, we were using adrenalin," Canada's Jarome Iginla said. "We were able to channel that energy and use it. It feels good. It's a huge game, but it doesn't feel like the gold medal game. There's still work to be done."
4 3 0 - 7RUS
1 2 0 - 3First Period Scoring:
1. CAN, Getzlaf (Boyle, Pronger) 2:21; 2. CAN, Boyle (Heatley, Marleau) 12:09 (PPG); 3. CAN, Nash (Toews, Richards) 12:55; 4. RUS, Kalinin (Volchenkov, Fedorov) 14:39; 5. CAN, Morrow (Boyle, Keith) 18:18.Second Period Penalties:
Seabrook CAN (interference) 7:58, Volchenkov RUS (holding) 10:26.Second Period Scoring:
6. CAN, Perry (Getzlaf, Keith) 3:10; 7. CAN, Weber (Toews, Iginla) 4:07; 8. RUS, Afinogenov (Kovalchuk, Grebeshkov) 4:46; 9. CAN, Perry (Staal, Getzlaf) 9:51; 10. RUS, Gonchar (Malkin) 11:40 (PPG).Second Period Penalties:
Bench CAN (too many men) 11:27, Korneev RUS (interference) 12:58, Keith CAN (tripping) 19:14.Third Period Scoring:
No scoring. Third Period Penalties:
Gonchar RUS (hooking) 2:01, Bench RUS (too many men) 5:11, Pronger CAN (holding) 14:37, Semin RUS (high-sticking) 17:17, Boyle CAN (interference) 17:17.SHOTS ON GOALCAN
21 9 9 - 42RUS
12 8 8 - 28Goaltenders (goals-shots against):
CAN: Luongo (W, 3-28); RUS: Nabokov (L, 6-23), Bryzgalov (1-19).
Power plays (goals-chances):
CAN: 1-4; RUS: 1-3.