Team Russia fought hard to have Evgeni Nabokov become part of their Olympic team in 2002 and continued the fight until he was eligible for 2006. Now they are reaping the rewards. Nabokov now has three shutouts in the Turin Olympic games, an Olympic feat that was never accomplished by Russian great Vladimir Tretiak.
On Wednesday, Nabokov shutout Olympic favorite Canada to advance Russia to the tournament semifinals. Russia won 2-0, but the win was in doubt until the very end.
The contest was scoreless after two periods as Nabokov and Martin Brodeur of Canada were in a netminding duel.
“We scored when we needed to score,” said Nabokov. “It was that type of game where whoever scored first was likely to win.”
Then Russia broke the ice on a tally by Alexander Ovechkin that was set up by former Sharks center Viktor Kozlov. At that point Canada truly turned up the pressure, seeming to have a quality shot almost every time they touched the puck.
“I think they did (put on the pressure),” said Nabokov. “Anytime a team goes down 1-0, they start crashing the net. Our defensemen and forwards were there for me.”
In earning the shutout, Nabokov turned away all 27 shots and in the entire Olympics, has rebuffed 88 of 90 scoring attempts.
When Alexei Kovalev added the late power play tally, it was only a matter of time before Russia could celebrate.
“Right after the second, we knew we were going to win,” said Nabokov. “Until that time, anything could happen.”
The one-and-out saw what easily could have been the gold-medal game with Russia versus the pre-tournament favorite.
“Any time you play Canada with the players they have, you know it will be a good game,” said Nabokov.
In any one-goal game, there will be close calls for a netminder and Nabokov had one shot that stood out.
“I got lucky on a Joe Sakic shot that went off my chest, through my arm and wide,” said Nabokov, quietly deflecting the fact that he still made the save.
Nabokov and Russia will battle Finland on Friday at 7 a.m. PST.
“I think they’ve been the best team so far,” said Nabokov. “We’ll take our day off and get ready for them.”
SEMIFINALS The semifinals will take place on Friday and the schedule is below (times are Pacific Time).
7 a.m. Czech vs. Sweden MSNBC 11:30 a.m. Finland vs. Russia USA Network