Slovakia stuns Russia 2-1 in shootout
Slovakia showed the mighty Russians that talent alone doesn't cut
it in Olympic hockey.
Pavol Demitra scored on the Slovaks' seventh attempt in a shootout and Jaroslav Halak made some 36 saves, lifting them to a 2-1 win over Russia on Thursday night in another thriller at the Vancouver Games.
"We show we can play hockey, too," Demitra said after scoring on his second chance in the shootout.
Slovakia also did in 2006, knocking off the Russians in the preliminary round before both went home without a medal.
"Anybody can beat anybody," Slovak Zdeno Chara said.
Russia has been a popular pick to win Olympic gold for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The Soviets won seven of nine Olympics — losing only to the U.S. in 1960 and 1980 — and the Unified Team of former Soviet republics got to the top of the medal stand again in 1992.
"I think maybe it was a good game for us," said Russian goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 31 saves. "Right now, maybe we should think we are not that good."
Alex The Great had three chances to display his talent in the shootout and delivered only once.
Two-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin, though, tried to take a glass-half-full view of the setback.
"It's always tough to lose, but it's good to have it happen now in the tournament," he said.
Russia will have two days off before playing the Czech Republic in the first of three games on what's being called "Super Sunday" in Vancouver before the quarterfinals begin Tuesday.
Canada and the U.S. will play in the second game. Sweden and Finland will cap it off in a rematch of the Turin Games final.
The undefeated Americans are the only team in the 12-team field with six points, getting three for each of its two wins.
The Slovaks, the first team forced to play on back-to-back nights, will get rest they need on Friday before playing Latvia.
The break will let them enjoy what Marian Hossa — whose goal midway through the third tied the game — said was one of the huge wins in Slovakian hockey history.
"To beat a big dog like Russian team is always huge, especially after we play tough game against Czech Republic," he said.
Russia's Alex Morozov had a goal early in the second period, but the talent-oozing team couldn't repeat what it did in an 8-2 win against Latvia.
The Slovaks and Russians both missed out on chances to win in regulation.
Slovakia had a 5-on-3 power play for more than a minute early in the third but couldn't take advantage, and Russia failed to score with an extra skater midway through the period.
Both teams looked tired in the overtime, leading to few scoring chances.
Following a short break, the ice was cleared for the shooters and goalies in another heart-pumping show at Canada Hockey Place.
"We had nothing to lose," Halak said.
The fans — at least those not rooting for the Russians — had everything to gain.
Demitra sent the Slovaks' horn-tooting and flag-shaking followers home happy when he skated to the left, swooped to the front of the net and patiently waited for Bryzgalov to go down so that he could flick a shot high.
He celebrated by spreading his arms wide and soaking up the charged atmosphere.
"That was a huge win for us," Demitra said. "Fans here is amazing and it's so fun to play game here."
Famed Russian former goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, the team's general manager, stuck with his plan of starting Evgeni Nabokov in the first game and Bryzgalov in the second.
Nabokov said he would be back in net for the next game.
After Sidney Crosby's shootout goal lifted Canada to a 3-2 harder-than-expected win over Switzerland, the Slovaks and Russians followed up with another spectacular game.
Ovechkin blamed the bumpy playing surface for his shootout woes.
"It's hard to do something when the ice was so bad," Ovechkin said. "It was the third game of the day and the puck was jumping."
Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov will be second-guessed for his strategy in the shootout, giving Pavel Datsyuk only one chance despite his six goals in NHL shootouts this season on 11 attempts. Ovechkin has only one goal in six shootout attempts this season.
"We decided a different player," Bykov said glaring at a reporter after a long pause. "We have plenty of powerful players and sometimes it's just hard to choose the right candidate."