Good as gold: Revived Canada advances to meet Russia in Olympics men’s hockey quarterfinals

By Gregg Bell, AP
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Good as gold: Canada-Russia in quarters

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Rout in progress, Canada’s fans sent a bold chant echoing through the sold-out arena: “We want Russia!”

Indeed, the Russians are coming Wednesday in a gold-medal quality quarterfinal showdown of hockey’s two fiercest rivals and its two brightest stars — Russia’s Alex Ovechkin and Canada’s Sidney Crosby.

Canada prompted the early meeting after being exiled to a qualification game Tuesday, where Jarome Iginla scored two goals as a revived Canadian hockey team beat Germany 8-2.

“They were just saying what they wanted,” Crosby said of the fans. “They are confident.”

So, too, are the Canadians.

Thanks to a new line of Crosby, Iginla and Eric Staal, plus new goalie Roberto Luongo, the home team has regained its swagger following a stunning loss Sunday to the United States.

But they’ll need more than bravado against Russia.

“I mean, that’s a big rivalry. We all know it,” Crosby said. “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.

Told Canadian fans had been hoping for a gold-medal matchup between the two powers, Russian general manager Vladislav Tretiak said, “Me, too.”

Like the Russians, the top-seeded Americans also got the day off, while Switzerland got a surprising challenge from Belarus before winning 3-2 in a shootout in Tuesday’s first game.

The Americans face the Swiss Wednesday and are playing in the bracket with Finland and Czech Republic — not the group of death featuring Canada, Russia and Sweden.

“That’s what we worked hard for those first three games,” U.S. forward Patrick Kane said. “Right now, we’ve put ourselves in good position. Obviously, we have to win three more games but playing the lowest seeds, it’s nice.”

The Czechs, who won bronze in Turin, beat Latvia 3-2 when David Krejci scored 5:10 into overtime. But the Czechs lost their best player, former NHL MVP Jaromir Jagr, to an upper body injury in the opening minute of the second period. His status was unknown for Wednesday’s game against Finland, the defending silver medalists.

The Swedes play Slovakia in the other quarterfinal. Slovakia beat Norway 4-3 late Tuesday on a goal by Miroslav Satan 8 minutes into the third period.

Heavily favored to win the gold medal, Canada never expected to be playing its way in. That brought about a number of changes, including switching goaltenders from Martin Brodeur to Roberto Luongo, who also will start against Russia. The switch hardly mattered Tuesday, as offensively challenged Germany had few good scoring chances until the rout was on.

Canada’s key change was shifting Staal and Iginla onto Crosby’s line, where Iginla scored three goals against Norway. Iginla scored two goals in slightly more than five minutes to make it 4-0.

Joe Thornton — nicknamed “No Show Joe” for disappearing in Canada’s first three games — scored in the first period. And Shea Weber had a goal that left black scorch marks on the net.

It all prompted the sellout crowd to start asking for what it had expected to get in Sunday’s final.

Beyond Crosby vs. Ovechkin, it’s Russia’s speed vs. Canada’s vast depth and teammates vs. teammates. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin won the Stanley Cup together last season in Pittsburgh.

“It’s going to be intense,” Crosby said.

This has been hockey’s biggest rivalry since the Canadians won the famed 1972 Summit Series in Moscow, a victory considered Canada’s greatest in the sport. And Canada beat the Soviets in the 1987 Canada Cup on a Wayne Gretzky pass to Mario Lemieux.

The tension lessened somewhat when Soviet players began migrating to the NHL, yet players remain fiercely loyal to their countries. Ovechkin, the NHL’s most dynamic offensive talent, has threatened to leave the Capitals to play in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, if NHL players don’t take part.

The two-time NHL MVP bragged this week of Russians: “We have probably the best country in the world. Everything is the best: hockey players, cars, girls.”

As for Wednesday on the ice, Ovechkin said, “We don’t have the kind of pressure that Canada has right now because they’re the home team.”

Crosby and Ovechkin don’t get along, either. Crosby dislikes Ovechkin’s showboating and his penchant for targeting opposing players for questionable hits. Yet Crosby said no one on Canada’s team would be intimidated even though Ovechkin leveled Jagr a few days ago.

“We don’t want to be caught in the railroad tracks. We know he’s a big body,” Babcock said. “He will be excited. Sid will be excited.

“All of us will be excited.”

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