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Men’s hockey: Russia 4 Czechs 2 (F)

Super Sunday opener pits old Eastern bloc rivals in grudge match


 

3rd Period

19:48— Elias with a rare giveaway at the blue line, and Pavel Datsyuk scores into the empty net. Final shots 31-25 Russia. Final score 4-2 Russia. A great game.

Goalie out, and Krejci makes one move too many on an amazing rush. Timeout Russia.

14:51 — Redemption for Michalek! And for Jagr, who helps dig out the puck along the boards and screens Nabakov. 3-2 Russia. We’re in for nailbiter.

13:40 — Milan Michalek turned Gonchar inside out but couldn’t close the deal. From here, it looked like Gonchar might have grabbed him with the free hand. Czechs clearly feeling the heat now.

1:49 — A Russian goal that, for now at least, looks like a turning point. Ovechkin lines up Jaromir Jagr and flattens him in the neutral zone; loose puck to Semin, pass to Malkin, one-timer into the net.

It has lit a fire under both teams after a slower second period. Jagr has something prove, and not a whole lot of time to prove it.

The Ovie-Semin-Malkin line is becoming too big a handful for any of the Czech lines.

2nd Period

The Czechs may have a beef following a goal-mouth scramble in the Russian end. Not only did the puck appear to be loose along the goal line, a Russian player, Ilya Nikulin, grabbed it with his glove. Under IIHF rules, as in the NHL, that should be a penalty shot.

Not long afterward, some beaking broke out between Radulov—who fled the Nashville Predators for the Kontinental League—and his old teammate Martin Erat. I’m not sure what Erat said, but Radulov, frustrated by a failed 2-on-1, charged David Kreicji piling him into his own linemate, inflicting what looks like a terrible injury on Sergei Zinoviev’s knee.

What’s the Russian word for idiotic?

Russia looks perpetually on the cusp of breaking out, and it’s hard to overstate the level of talent on this team. But they’re not yet gelling, and they’re undisciplined. They’re vulnerable to a tenacious checking team.

14:33 — tough goal for Vokoun. Viktor Kozlov pivots to tap it in, but Alexander Radulov did the heavy lifting, banging away to get it to him. 2-1 Russia.

10:53 — another offensive-zone penalty for the Russians—Semin this time. But they kill it off

Havlat, Plekanec and Elias: interesting line, nimble yet defensively responsible

Petr Cajanek off for high-sticking. The two Canadian refs, Dan O’Halloran and Guy Pellerin, are calling this one close.

The Czechs seem content to let the Russians carry the play, using only one forechecker most of the time. And Vladimir Ruzicka doesn’t seem preoccupied with matching lines, using a couple of different combinations against Malkin, Crosby and Semin.

There’s probably not much point: even if you shut those three down, you have to contend with Datsyuk, Kovalchuk and Afinogenov. Everyone has to play some defence today.

1st Period

19:07 — PP goal by Tomas Plekanec, who spins nicely off Nikulin and finds the inside post. Fedorov will answer for a silly trip that put the Czechs up by two men. What a time to give up a goal, and what a period. Shots were 13-5 for Russia. But the only score that matters says they’re dead even.

Fleischmann misses another! What’s with that guy? He’s got some of the softest hands in the NHL.

14:38 — Another Russian PP, this time Malkin sneaks it in. Gotta bird’s eye view and Vokoun nearly had it. 1-zip for Russian.

10:46 — Russian PP: let’s see what they got

Answer: not much. Vokoun was forced make good save on a shot by Ilya Nikulin that hit something and changed speeds

Tomas Fleischmann isn’t going to get many opportunities like the one Evgeni Nabokov just took from him. Right on the goalmouth. Big fat rebound.

Then again, who thought Vokoun could stop Ovie on a partial break at the 6:30 mark? Got a great view of it from where I’m seated and Vokoun made himself nice and big, followed him right across the crease.

The pace varies from shift to shift, but at times it’s breathtaking. Those times seem to coincide with Alex Ovechkin’s presence on the ice.

Russians threw the body on their first shift—Kovalchuk and Malkin.

It’s hard to distinguish between the Russian and Czech fans here; their flags feature exactly the same colours.

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Where to start with these two teams? Both are big, and both are talented. Like games between Canada and the U.S., those between the Russians and the Czechs are never just about hockey.

I wrote yesterday of their off-ice history. The on-ice intrigue is almost as compelling. After decades of Olympic dominance, the Russians have not won gold since 1992, the last time they drew players from the former U.S.S.R., and have twice finished out of the medals. The post-Soviet era hasn’t bee a whole lot kinder to the Czechs. But they did beat the Russians in a battle royale to win the gold in 1998.

That game—a 1-0 shutout that featured a stunning performance by goalie Dominik Hasek—is arguably the Czech’s greatest Olympic triumph. Not only did they vanquish their former oppressor, they won the first Winter Games in which the pros were allowed to compete, beating a Canadian team anchored by Wayne Gretzky along the way.

The Czechs also won the last Olympic match between the two teams, beating Russia 3-0 to win the bronze medal in Turin.

In this game, most  of the pressure is on the Russians. They need a regulation win to get a bye to the quarterfinals; otherwise, they have to play a qualifying game. For the Czechs, a loss in overtime or shootout would do the job.


 

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