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|Pavel Datsyuk was uncertain when he will. . .
19.02.2014. Helene St James. Gannett News Service
SOCHI, Russia _ Pavel Datsyuk was uncertain when he will recover. He has lost hockey games before, but never this big, in his own big country.
Datsyuk captained his Team Russia into the Sochi Games on one leg and left it with his feet kicked out from under him. Demonstrating that unity can undo talent, Finland callously disposed of Russia, 3-1, in a quarterfinal Wednesday at Bolshoy Ice Dome. Datsyuk's disappointment was magnified by his homeland, which had expected what Canada delivered when hosting the Olympics four years ago: Gold.
Instead the Russians gone.
"There were great hopes placed on us and we didn't live up to them," Datsyuk said.
The Finns planned to live it up, briefly.
"I'm going to have a couple beers, that's for sure," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said.
Then they will get back to work, to face their Nordic neighbor Sweden. Sweden was the first to advance to the semifinals, shutting down Slovenia, 5-0. Sweden coach Par Marts said after his game he thought Russia would win, which prompted great laughter among the Finns.
They felt good all day, though, because why not. Team Russia had the superstars - Datsyuk, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk. Their power play was supposed to fire with a dragon's breath. But all the questions about their compatibility and their defense and the goaltending carousel and the tremendous scrutiny of playing at home turned into a textbook takedown. The Finns had the answers tucked away in the sleeves of their Suomi sweaters. They knew Russia had played 24 hours earlier in qualification after failing to secure a top-four seed. So the Finns skated the Russians into ruts, and then kept quiet as the Russians went through their own private riots.
"I felt like when they had a power play there, maybe 14 minutes left, and it wasn't really good," Kimonen said, "I could feel they start hitting people and playing hard and that's not their style. Then I felt like if we can keep the score like this, we're going to win.
"We knew our team game is a little bit better than theirs. Obviously, they've got a really good team, and really good individuals, but sometimes hockey is like this, the team wins."
Timonen smiled as he thought back to two events in the game: Mikael Granlund setting up Teemu Selanne's game-winning goal, then Selanne setting up Granlund's goal in the second period, the one that hushed the crowd, the one that sagged the flags. Granlund was born in 1992. Selanne was playing in his first of six Winter Olympics in 1992.
"I was talking to Teemu before the game," Timonen said. "We were saying, let's not make this our last game."
That it ended up being Russia's last game led to intense dissection. Should Zinetula Bilyaletdinov pay the price? He started Semyon Varlamov over Sergei Bobrovsky, then waited for Bobrovsky to do warm-up stretches while playing Varlamov another minute after allowing the third goal.
Bilyaletdinov, speaking through a translator, suggested criticism would be cannibalistic, saying, "You'll eat me and I'll be gone." After that came, "I'll keep living."
Should the Russian players be raked over coals? Few were difference-makers. Datsyuk dazzled as usual, racking up six points in five games. Alexander Radulov had three goals and three assists. Ilya Kovalchuk used his third goal of the tournament to pump up Russia's hopes, ripping a one-timer past Tuukka Rask eight minutes into the game. Rask ended up facing 38 shots. Three of them were from Ovechkin, who no doubt will be asked for a long time why he can score 40 goals this season for the Washington Capitals but only one for his homeland.
Ovechkin, never one with a poker face, said, "no emotions right now."
The NHL has the first of several return-trip charters to the U.S. scheduled to leave Thursday. Detroit general manager Ken Holland wasn't immediately sure. For the Wings, the outcome was amenable: Datsyuk was so bothered by an inflamed knee he could barely skate the first game. He was Russia's best player the last three games, and now he gets a week to recuperate before the Wings return to NHL action. Datsyuk is vital to the Wings' chances of keeping their 22-season playoff streak pulsing.
Going back home to Datsyuk's other country, the one where he makes his living, will offer a geographical buffer - but the pain of Russia's failure to launch will linger.