February 24, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Russia's 7-3 loss to Canada in its Olympic hockey quarterfinal game is one of the most definitive, declarative and emphatic emasculations the sport has seen in decades. The fans chanted "we want Russia" after Canada's win over Germany; how many knew Canada would dismantle this hockey empire once it got them?
Russia was embarrassed. To the point where Russian NHL player participation in the 2014 Games in Sochi is now guaranteed; there's no other way to cleanse the stench from this defeat. This game was supposed to be a classic. Instead, it was a coronation for the Canadians in this rivalry.
Evgeni Nabokov was pathetic. As bad as a goaltender has been in this tournament. The 23 shots he faced before he was pulled were the fault of his defenders; the six goals were his own folly. His mistimed slide on Rick Nash's goal, which gave Canada a 3-0 lead, was his worst moment until he allowed a shot by Brenden Morrow to squeeze through him and over the goal line, like a dog leaving an ignominious present on its owner's stoop. The sixth goal he allowed came 57 seconds after the fifth. The questions about his status as a clutch goaltender have never been more validated.
The defense was pathetic. Unable to move Canadian players from Nabokov's sight line. Unable to defend odd-man Canadian rushes. There may be a "D" in "forward," but there sure wasn't any in these tentative, meandering Russian wingers.
The non-NHL players were pathetic. The Russians have nine players on the roster from their native Kontinental Hockey League. There were a combined minus-9 with two points, getting outclassed and outcompeted in every zone. They were warm bodies, background players to Canada's stars.
Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, Alex Ovechkin was pathetic, a non-factor in one of the most high-profile games of his career: no goals, no assists, three shots on goal and nothing noteworthy off the stat sheet.
His line with Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin and fellow Washington Capitals winger Alex Semin was dominated early by Canada's fourth line of Mike Richards, Jonathan Toews and especially Rick Nash. He broke three sticks: two on shots, one on a Canadian slash. He gave his critics fodder on a defensive lapse on Weber's goal; cue the NoBackCheckin' crowd.
With 11:25 left in the game, Hockey Place echoed with a mocking chant of "Ooooooovieeeee."
With 7:45 left, he took a Toews shot off his hand and skated to the bench in obvious pain. He returned, but was ineffective.
His defenders will cite Sidney Crosby's silent night (0-0-0) as being just as bad, but the fact is that Russia needed Ovechkin more than Canada needed Crosby; because what the hockey world discovered in these 60 minutes was that Canada is a hockey superpower while Russia was only billed as one.
The fans chanted "We want gold" at the end of the game. It's the only thing that could top this moment for Canadian hockey.
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