The Russians are leaving! The Russians are leaving!
And everyone in the Olympic hockey tourney thought they were coming. In the biggest upset loss in the Russian/Soviet Union hockey history since their loss to the Americans at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Finland 3-1.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said that (I'm paraphrasing) if the Russians win the gold medal in hockey, no other medals matter and if they don't win the gold, no other medals matter. With that kind of pressure on the home country, the Russians wilted and did not play well in the tournament as they went to a shootout to beat Slovakia on Sunday and had their trouble with lowly Norway on Tuesday before coming up with a 4-0 win.
Alex Ovechkin has taken a lot of heat for the loss as he was the face of the Russian team. Ovechkin had a bad time of things when he returned from the 2010 Olympics and struggled the rest of the way with the Capitals. Ovechkin had 42 goals and 47 assists with a plus-43 rating in 54 games before the 2010 Olympics but really slumped for him after returning as he had eight goals and 12 assists in 18 games with a plus-two rating. It could be more of the same this season.
But the Russian loss is being unfairly put on the shoulders of Ovechkin. The Russians have not been able to develop top notch defensemen with Slava Voynov probably being the best since Sergei Zubov. Their defensemen are slow as shown by the first two Finnish goals and their system, which used to be their strength, is weak as well.
Much has been made as far as fantasy hockey is concerned in that players in the Olympics will have little time to recover after returning from the Games but the following players will have a week of rest before the NHL resumes:
Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov, Anton Belov, Alexei Emelin, Andre Markov, Nikita Nikitin, Fedor Tyutin, Slava Voynov, Artem Anisimov, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Valeri Nichushkin, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaroslav Halak, Peter Budaj, Zdeno Chara, Andrej Sekera, Andrej Meszaros, Martin Marincin, Marian Hossa, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Tomas Kopecky, Michal Handzus, Anze Kopitar, Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner, Michael Raffl, Mats Zuccarello, Ondrej Pavelec, Marek Zidlicky, Radko Gudas, Zbynek Michalek, Ladislav Smid, Michal Rozsival, Jaromir Jagr, David Krejci, Tomas Plekanec, Jakub Voracek, Patrik Elias, Martin Hanzal, Michael Frolik, Ondrej Palat. Milan Michalek, Ales Hemsky, Martin Erat, Zemgus Girgensons, Reto Berra, Jonas Hiller, Raphael Diaz, Roman Josi, Mark Streit, Yannick Weber, Damien Brunner and Nino Niederreiter.
Finland 3 Russia 1
In my column on Monday, I stated that the Finns were no longer pesky. I have to take that back. They were pesky on Wednesday in defeating the Russians. Goaltender Tuukka Rask showed his form of earlier this season as he stonewalled the Russians, making 37 saves as only an Ilya Kovalchuk power play goal in the first period eluded him.
Semyon Varlamov got the start and it was a surprise as Sergei Bobrovsky earned a shutout Tuesday when they faced the Norwegians. Varlamov was shaky and was pulled after allowing three goals on only 15 shots. Bobrovsky came in and made all seven saves that were sent his way but it was too little, too late.
Teemu Selanne, the 43-year-old veteran of the Finns who first played in the Olympics at the Albertville Games in 1992, scored the winner and assisted on Mikael Granlund's insurance goal. Granlund also assisted on Selanne's goal while Juhamatti Aaltonen opened the scoring for Finland.
Finland has won medals in hockey the last two tournaments (and are the only team to do so) while the Russians have not stood on the podium since 2002 when they won bronze in Salt Lake City.
Sweden 5 Slovenia 0
There were a couple of Cinderella stories in the Olympics and the Slovenians were one of them. They only had one NHLer in Anze Kopitar but managed to beat Slovakia in the preliminary round and make it to the quarter-finals by besting Austria.
But the clock struck midnight when they faced the depleted Swedes who lost Henrik Zetterberg for the remainder of the Olympics early on with a herniated disc in his back. Sweden proved to be too much for the Slovenians in the 5-0 whitewash as Henrik Lundqvist continued his impressive play, stopping all 19 shots.
Daniel Sedin potted his third goal in his last two games after going the last 19 games of the NHL season and the first two of the Olympics without finding the back of the net. Carl Hagelin scored twice with Loui Eriksson and Alexander Steen, who opened the scoring on the power play, also finding paydirt.
United States 5 Czech Republic 2
The Americans have been the best team in the tournament hands down thus far, and it continued on Wednesday with a 5-2 victory over the Czech Republic, setting up the classic U.S.A.-Canada showdown set for Friday.
David Backes led the way with a goal and an assist and his goal with two seconds remaining in the first period took the air out of the Czechs as it gave the Americans a 3-1 lead heading into the dressing room. James van Riemsdyk opened the scoring but Ales Hemsky was credited with tying it at one as Ryan McDonaugh knocked it into his own net by hitting Ryan Suter with a clearing pass. Dustin Brown gave the United States a 2-1 lead as Suter picked up the first of his three assists.
Zach Parise on the power play scored the only goal of the second stanza as his goal chased Ondrej Pavelec from the net as he gave up four goals on 12 shots. Phil Kessel continued his outstanding play with his fifth goal of the Olympics in the third period.
Ales Hemsky finished the scoring with his second of the night as he was the only one to beat Jonathan Quick who turned aside 21 shots.
If the U.S. continue their outstanding play, it's going to be hard for any team to beat them. They take on Canada Friday in what should be the best and most anticipated game of the tournament, despite it being a semi-final and not a final match.
Canada 2 Latvia 1
Going into the Olympics, I thought that the best two goaltenders were Tuukka Rask of Finland and Henrik Lundqvist of Sweden. Rask was sensational Wednesday but not the best goalkeeper.
The best goalie on Wednesday was Latvia's Kristers Gudlevskis who stopped an amazing 55 of 57 shots as he kept the Latvians in the game. He followed Edgars Masalskis outstanding performance on Tuesday as Masalskis stopped 32 of 33 shots as Latvia upset the heavily favored Switzerland team 3-1 to advance to the quarter-finals.
Canada threw everything but the kitchen sink at Gudlevskis who plays for Syracuse of the AHL, the Tampa Bay farm team. Gudlevskis may never play a better game in his life and he did it on the biggest stage, allowing only goals from Patrick Sharp and Shea Weber who scored on a howitzer from the point in the third to win it.
Lauris Darzins tied the game at one in the first stanza as he came in on a breakaway, faked a slapshot and went around Carey Price, tucking a backhander into the cage. It was a nail biter the rest of the way as Canada outshot Latvia 57-16 but were denied time after time by Gudlevskis. Gudelevskis plays for Canada's and Tampa Bay's GM Steve Yzerman and Yzerman had to be happy only after the game with the goalie's performance.
John Tavares was injured and is out for the rest of tournament and possibly for the rest of the NHL.
So Canada will face the Americans while Sweden and Finland face off on Friday. I'll go out on a limb and say that a North American team and a team from Scandinavia will play for the Gold Medal.
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