NHL

Ovechkin apologizes for Russia hockey performance

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP)

Alex Ovechkin apologized for Russia's hockey performance at the Olympics, a sentiment put in perspective by the encouraging news that his father was on the way home after heart surgery.

Far more upset was Nicklas Backstrom, who remains clearly miffed that an allergy medication he's taken for years cost him a chance to play for a gold medal.

The Washington Capitals held their first post-Olympics practice Tuesday, a session overshadowed by residue from the Winter Games even as they tried to focus on the resumption of their NHL schedule.

Ovechkin was one of the faces of Sochi, bent on winning the gold on home ice. Instead, the Russians were eliminated in the quarterfinals for the second consecutive Olympics.

''First of all, I want to say sorry to the fans,'' Ovechkin said. ''Because it's once in a lifetime opportunity to represent your country in the Olympics, and you didn't get the results, you didn't get any medal. Of course the fans, the media and the people who support Russia, family, was upset, but life goes on.''

Ovechkin took the Olympic disappointment especially hard four years ago, but this time he had to immediately turn his attention to his family. His father, who has a history of heart problems, became ill following one of his son's games and required surgery. Ovechkin wasn't told until three days later, after Russia had been eliminated.

''Soon as I found out that he's in hospital and he's feeling not that good and he could be dying, I just forget the game that we lose against Finland. ... Just go there and spend time with him and saw him,'' Ovechkin said. ''It was great feelings to see what's happening and how he's feeling. That's most important thing.''

Ovechkin said his father, mother and brother were flying home to Moscow on Tuesday.

Ovechkin said he understands the criticism he received for his play during the Olympics - ''I didn't score lots of goals out there'' - but the 28-year-old three-time league MVP appears ready to refocus on the Capitals, who resume play Thursday at Florida.

''This is a very tough loss for me and for Russia, but I'm almost 30,'' Ovechkin said. ''I have to handle it. I have to fight through it.''

The lingering Olympic sting was more evident on the face of Backstrom, who helped lead Sweden to the gold medal game but was pulled from the lineup shortly before faceoff because he had failed a doping test. Without one of its top players, Sweden lost 3-0 to Canada.

''I've had allergies for seven years, since I got here,'' Backstrom said. ''Everyone that lives in the Washington area knows how bad it is here. I've been taking Zyrtec-D for the last seven years and I haven't been doing anything differently. I've been playing internationally, in the world championships (and) Olympics before, and so I haven't done anything differently.''

An ingredient in the allergy medicine is on the list of banned substances for Olympic competition, but Backstrom said he was told by the Sweden team doctor that he could take one pill a day without triggering a positive test.

''Who do I blame?'' Backstrom said. ''Well, I followed the doctor's recommendation.''

Backstrom said he expects a two-week wait to find out whether he will be awarded his silver medal, which is being held at the International Ice Hockey Federation offices in Zurich.

''Obviously, it's not fun to deal with,'' Backstrom said. ''I don't wish no one to have to go through this, if I'm going to be honest with you. It's not fun. But I've got to look forward to play next game on Thursday. I've got to focus on Washington right now.''

Backstrom's teammates, much like the international hockey community in general, were shocked at how his situation was handled.

''It's just ridiculous that it can happen at a big tournament like this,'' forward Martin Erat said, ''at the Olympics just before the finals when everybody is ready to go and you just want to enjoy the sport. It just happened because of some stupidity, and it's just unbelievable that this can happen in the Olympics.''

The Capitals sent five players to Sochi, and four of them have dealt with some sort of unexpected life event that has derailed an attempt to return to normalcy after the Olympics. Ovechkin had the health scare with his father, Backstrom has the fallout from the doping test, Swedish forward Marcus Johansson is stuck in Stockholm because of an visa issue - the Capitals expect him to join them in Florida for Thursday's game - and Erat returned to his family in Nashville, Tenn., as soon as he could after the Czech Republic was eliminated.

''We just finished our quarterfinal game, and I went for my phone, and our friend had called me and said your baby girl, Victoria Bella, is born,'' Erat said. ''First we lost in the quarterfinal, it was hard to swallow, and when I got the news, it brought back a smile on my face.''

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

Tagged: Capitals, Martin Erat, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom

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