Canada-Russia Preview

BY foxsports • February 24, 2010

Going into the Olympics, Canada and Russia had aspirations of leaving Vancouver with the gold medal in men's hockey. Instead, one high-profile team will exit early, no doubt bitterly disappointed.

Canada must hope that a new line centered by Sidney Crosby can help end half a century's worth of futility against Russia, which needs to continue riding reigning two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin's scoring - and hitting.

Regardless, one of the countries will see its medal dreams end Wednesday night in the quarterfinals.

"I mean, that's a big rivalry. We all know it," said Crosby, the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins who is tied with the Washington Capitals' Ovechkin for the NHL goal-scoring lead with 42. "It's something everyone's been talking about. It's something at we thought that sooner or later it was going to happen.

"I don't think anyone believed it would be in quarterfinals."

The Canadians and Russians have each won 12 medals in men's hockey, the most by any country in the sport. Russia has taken home eight golds - two more than Canada, which figured it would have a good chance to narrow that gap with the Olympics being held on home soil for the first time in 22 years.

Instead, Canada ended round-robin play with its first loss to the United States in 50 years, and was forced to play a qualification game Tuesday against Germany.

Playing for their tournament lives, the hosts rolled to an 8-2 victory behind a newly-reconfigured top line. Crosby scored, Jarome Iginla had two goals and Eric Staal chipped in with three assists.

A problem for Canada has been finding suitable linemates for Crosby, a first-time Olympian. Iginla, the captain of the Calgary Flames, has five goals - all on Crosby's wing. Staal, the Carolina Hurricanes' captain, has four assists and five points so far.

"You don't want to play (Russia) in the quarterfinals because it means your record isn't as good," Iginla said. "But it could definitely be good for us. I think it's good for our whole team. Each game, you feel more comfortable."

Roberto Luongo of the hometown Canucks started in goal Tuesday over struggling Martin Brodeur and stopped 21 shots.

"I had a lot of fun out there tonight and I'm sure I'll have a lot more fun tomorrow," Luongo said.

Luongo, who had defeated Norway 8-0 in the Olympic opener, saw his shutout streak end at 96 minutes, 34 seconds when he was beaten by Marcel Goc of the Nashville Predators. Manuel Klinge added a late goal for the 11th-seeded Germans.

The win improved Canada to 15-0 all-time against Germany, but the level of competition is about to get exponentially tougher.

To reach Friday's semifinal round, Canada needs to earn its first win over the former Soviet Union since 1960. Overall, the Canadians are 1-9-0 against the Soviets/Unified Team/Russians and have been outscored by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

That doesn't include the 1972 Summit Series, an emotionally-charged eight-game tournament won by Canada during the Cold War. Fifteen years later, Canada again defeated the Soviets in the Canada Cup on a Wayne Gretzky pass to Mario Lemieux.

So, is there any pressure now on the Canadians as they need to win three games in the next five days for their first Olympic gold since 2002?

"I don't think it's take-it-easy tonight," Luongo said. "We're going to have a nice meal, but once we get back to the village, we start focusing on Russia. It's only 24 hours away."

And is Russia feeling antsy?

"It's really too early to make any decisions, any conclusions," said the San Jose Sharks' Evgeni Nabokov, who will start in goal. "We have to put together a good game."

After routing Latvia and falling to Slovakia in a shootout, the Russians won Group B and clinched a quarterfinal bye with Sunday's 4-2 win over the Czech Republic.

Ovechkin had two assists, but received more accolades for a thundering open-ice hit on Jaromir Jagr that left the former NHL star on his back. Capitals teammate Alexander Semin collected the loose puck and fed the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin for a goal that made it 3-1 early in the third period.

"Right now, I'm here and I want to win gold probably the same like when I play in the NHL for the Stanley Cup," said Ovechkin, who also has two goals at the Games.

Ovechkin has four points in Vancouver, one fewer than Malkin - Crosby's Stanley Cup-winning teammate. Canada, though, will be focusing squarely on No. 8.

"We don't want to be caught in the railroad tracks," coach Mike Babcock said, referring to Ovechkin's ability to level players. "We know he's a big body. He will be excited. Sid will be excited. All of us will be excited."

The Russians haven't won gold since the Unified Team did so in 1992. They took bronze in 2002, but were blanked by the Czechs in the bronze-medal game four years ago in Turin.


share story