- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Many pundits predicted that Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin would end up on a collision course in Vancouver.

Not very many thought it would come in the quarterfinal round.

The two teams tabbed as heavy favorites to meet for the gold medal in this year’s Olympic tournament had their fair shares of disappointment in the preliminary round.

Although the Russians suffered a shootout loss to Slovakia Thursday night in their second game, they did rally to take the Group B title with a 4-2 win over the Czech Republic to finish with a 2-0-1 record and 7 points, good for third seed in the medal round.

However, Canada’s preliminary problems through three games were much worse, as the hosts lost a chance to take Group A and the tournament’s top seed with their 5-3 loss to the U.S. Sunday.

As a result, the Canadians had to play an extra game Tuesday against Germany, and drew a much tougher bracket to fight through in order to try to claim the country’s second men’s hockey gold in eight years.

So, while the NHL does get the matchup it wanted between two powerful teams led by its brightest stars, it certainly is much earlier in the tournament than they had hoped. Due to the Canadians’ shocking loss, one of their two big stars won’t be anywhere near the medals podium following Sunday’s gold-medal game.

While the rivalry between the last two Hart Trophy winners for the NHL’s MVP has been well documented, this will mark the first time the two have met on Olympic ice.

Ovechkin is no stranger to the Olympics, having helped Russia eliminate Canada in the 2006 quarterfinals in Turin, scoring a goal as Russia moved on to the semifinals — although they were shut out in their last two games to miss out on the medals.

Crosby wasn’t part of that Canadian team that finished a very disappointing seventh, but the face of this year’s club has some work to do to avoid ending up with a similar fate.

The Penguins’ captain didn’t quite have a game to remember against the Americans, as although he scored a late goal to pull the Canadians within one, he also accidentally tipped in the U.S.’s first goal in the first minute of the contest and was on the ice for three of the American’s tallies.

After falling to Crosby’s Penguins in a memorable seven-game series last spring, Ovechkin would love nothing more than to eliminate Canada on their home ice, and earn a chance to earn the medal he missed out on in Italy.

While Crosby’s struggles Sunday were well-documented, so too was Ovechkin’s strong play in Russia’s win over the Czechs, as his hit on former NHL star Jaromir Jagr became a viral video sensation, as the Capitals’ star flattened Jagr at center ice, which led to Evgeni Malkin’s third-period goal to seal the Russian win over the Czechs.

After the game, Ovechkin simply told the New York Times I know it was a strong hit, but what can I do? Its the Olympics.

With his mother, Tatiana, having won two gold medals with the Soviet Union’s women’s basketball team in 1976 and 1980, as a youngster, Ovechkin would pull out his mother’s hardware won in Montreal and Moscow as motivation. The two symbols of Olympic triumph has fueled his stated goal to match his mother’s accomplishment by winning two golden medals of his own.

To get a sense how important the Olympics are in the Ovechkin household, know this: Ovechkin has threatened to jeopardize his lucrative NHL contract to play in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi should the NHL decide not to shut down to send players to his homeland.

His mother was even quoted by Russia Today saying Doesnt [NHL commissioner Gary Bettman] understand what Olympics are? Let him read books! Let him study history! They stopped wars in ancient Greece for the Olympics. Wars! And he cant stop his league for two weeks? This is nonsense!”

But before the Olympics started, both stars said they would look forward to facing their rivals.

“It’s going to be a pretty big game for both countries, for both teams,” Ovechkin told NHL.com Tuesday. “But it’s going to be a pretty fun game, too.”

“It being in Canada, we all realize, as Canadians, as hockey players, what kind of an opportunity we have here,” Crosby told the Globe and Mail before the tournament. “Without [Ovechkin and me] even being there, you’d still be left with a really intense rivalry between two countries with great hockey history.”

But for one of the two stars, their Olympic dreams will end prematurely in what is easily the most-anticipated quarterfinal round match in recent Olympic history.

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