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|25 февраля 2010
Canada Owns The Rink; Canucks end 50-year Olympic drought by shutting down Russia's Big 3 of Ovechkin, Malkin, Semin // Toronto Star.
If you're going to end a drought in sports, you might as welldo it with style.
Canada didn't just win its first Olympic hockey game against Russia in 50 years on Wednesday. It delivered a stunning performance that will resonate for years, particularly if the final four days of these wonderful Winter Olympics include two more victories.
Quite simply, hammering the Russian Bear by a more-than-convincing 7-3 score not only eliminated one of Canada's most dangerous rivals, it reinserted Canada into the position it held when Wayne Gretzky lit the Olympic cauldron in the drizzle 13 days ago - the favourite to win gold.
You always go into these best-on-best competitions, with teams cobbled together with great haste, wondering what kind of teams will emerge. For Canada, the team that has emerged is one of the most prolific, offensively talented Canadian teams in history.
In five games, Canada has scored 28 goals. On Wednesday, some of the goals came off fabulous rush plays with tape-to-tape passes and perfect shots. The Russians were advertised as the more skilled country, but it was the Canadians who dangled and deked, bringing the capacity crowd to its feet time and time again.
Russia, and superstar forward Alex Ovechkin, had been surprisingly non-lethal on the attack before meeting Canada. Ovechkin didn't find the net again, leaving him with two goals in Russia's opener and none after that, while big names like Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin were non-factors.
So too, really, was Canada's Sidney Crosby, as the much-ballyhooed individual rivalry between he and Ovechkin failed to emerge. They were rarely on the ice together, neither had a point and there was nothing even approaching that Eastern Conference playoff game last spring in which they scored matching hat tricks.
"It's up to you to decide," said Crosby when asked if he had again come out on top of their rivalry. "We won a game. It happened to be against Russia."
The difference was that Russia needed Ovechkin to be dominant, while Canada did not require the same of Crosby.
Crosby, in fact, was essentially supplanted for the day as Canada's top centre by cerebral Jonathan Toews, who was welded to a new line alongside Mike Richards and Rick Nash specifically for this game, and primarily to take on the awesome Russian line of Ovechkin, Malkin and Alexander Semin.
It was a matchup easily won by the Toews line. It was so one-sided that by the second half of the middle period, with Russia already down 7-3, head coach Slava Bykov broke up the line, replacing Malkin with 40-year-old greybeard Sergei Fedorov in his last major North American appearance.
"We tried to do different things, but everything was just bad," said Bykov through an interpreter. "Nothing helped."
By the time Malkin was stoned by Roberto Luongo in the third, the Canadians were deep in his kitchen, with Ryan Getzlaf chirping in his ear from the bench, prompting an elbow to the kisser from Malkin.
It was Malkin who was rudely relieved of the puck in the 13th minute of the first period for Canada's loveliest goal of the night in an early four-goal outburst. Richards moved it to Toews, who skated down the right side and flipped a textbook backhand saucer pass into the slot.
Nash, outracing Edmonton Oiler defenceman Denis Grebeshkov, lifted his second Olympic goal over the double pad stack attempt of Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov for a 3-0 Canadian lead. The Russians would never get closer again, and Nabokov's night was over by the second period.
"We can play offence, too," said Toews of his line's checking dominance. "That's defence to us, playing in their end."
Scott Niedermayer and Shea Weber, two B.C. boys, provided the brain and brawns blue-line support for the Toews unit. In a Canada-Russia context, the Toews line seemed somewhat reminiscent of the way in which Harry Sinden threw together the line of Bobby Clarke between Ron Ellis and Paul Henderson in the '72 Summit Series and watched it become his most reliable trio.
Ovechkin played more than 21 minutes but had only three shots. Afterwards, as he had done all tourney, he spoke a few words in Russian, then stomped stonefaced to the dressing room, refusing to speak to English-speaking writers.
His silent Olympics are over. Team Canada, meanwhile, is noisily back in charge again.