What a dud. Not from Canada’s perspective of course, because any Olympic win is a good thing. And a blowout one against Russia, well, that calls for some dancing in the streets. Especially because it tells everyone that the host country is back, its gold medal still very much alive and well.
For anyone with a less vested interest though, this had to be a monumental disappointment. It was supposed to be a clash of the titans between Sidney Crosby’s Team Canada and Alex Ovechkin’s Team Russia, but that never came close to materializing thanks to a 7-3 butt-kicking administered by the home town heroes.
Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. The last time hockey’s two best players met in a much-hyped one-game showdown was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last spring. Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins blew out Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals then too, and with the kind of authority Team Canada showed in the Olympic quarterfinal.
Funny thing is that this time, neither superstar was a factor in the outcome. In Crosby’s case however, it didn’t really matter because six different Canadian players scored, three of them for the first time in the tournament. Ovechkin meanwhile, failed again to lift his team in a critical situation, going pointless with just three shots, while ending up a minus-2.
Ovechkin took a fair bit of pounding as well, mostly from defenseman Shea Weber, but it was not nearly as bad as the drubbing suffered by Russia’s starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov. The San Jose Sharks netminder had an awful night once again in a big situation, mercifully getting the hook four minutes into second period. By then, he had taken his team out of the game by giving up six goals on 23 shots.
That was more than enough for Team Canada that got its groove back after creating a national trauma earlier and in some quarters being counted out by losing a preliminary game to the United States .
The Canadians got back on track by easily dismissing Germany in a qualifying round game the night before, and against the Russians looked like the team that was widely predicted to win gold for the first time in the tournament. Canada was a team possessed and shell-shocked the Russians by scoring early and all but putting things away by grabbing a three-goal lead soon after.
“They played a great first 10 minutes,” was all that Ovechkin would concede to a television interviewer.
Truth is, it was a lot longer than that. This was really as one-sided as it could be between teams of this caliber and it made for a relatively comfortable night for Roberto Luongo. The Canadian goalie was tested a few times among the 25 shots he stops, but not enough to matter because his team played its game, controlling the boards, winning puck battles all over the ice, and forcing the surprisingly disjointed Russians into several costly mistakes.
“We talked a lot about having to play sound defense and we got rewarded for that,” said Canada’s captain Scott Niedermayer, who partnered with Weber as the shutdown defense pair against Ovechkin. “We got into some good positions and got some turnovers and the good thing we created goals off those turnovers.”
Canada created goals off several different types of plays as well, which suggested it has finally found the chemistry it has been looking for since the start of the Games. And that’s not good news for anyone else heading into the medal round.
“Confidence is important for anybody especially when you’re putting a bunch of new faces together to trust each other and trust is the game plan, all those things are important,” Niedermayer said. “The last couple of games we’re starting to play better. Hopefully that trend will continue.”