- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It was the most-highly anticipated matchup at the men’s hockey tournament in Vancouver, pitting the last two NHL MVPs against each other in a single-elimination quarterfinal between the host Canadians and the Russians.

Both teams had stumbled in the first round, with Sidney Crosby’s Canadians having to play an extra qualification game against Germany Tuesday after falling to the United States Sunday, while Alexander Ovechkin’s Russians dropped a shootout loss to Slovakia in the preliminary round.

In the end though, it was Canada’s depth that fueled the hosts. Neither star recorded a single point despite a total 10 goals in the contest, as Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks and Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks led the hosts’ potent offensive attack that chased starting netminder Evgeni Nabokov out of the game and Russia out of the tournament with a 7-3 rout.

Boyle had a goal and two assists in the first 20 minutes as the hosts jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first period and never looked back, while Perry scored a pair in the second to help bury the Russians in front of a delirious red-clad crowd at Canada Hockey Place.

The hosts now move on to play Sweden or Slovakia Friday night in the semifinals, while Ovechkin and Washington teammate Alexander Semin will head home to rejoin the Capitals after being eliminated from the tournament.

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“I think we [were] not ready for first five minutes of game and when we [woke] up it was too late,” Ovechkin told the Associated Press. “It was 3-0 and it’s pretty hard to come back, especially that game.”

Canada struck first with 2:09 into the game, as Ryan Getzlaf converted a Danny Boyle pass past Evgeni Nabokov for a 1-0 lead for the home team.

The hosts almost doubled their lead after a Crosby was hauled down on a rush, and Boyle couldn’t quite deposit a loose puck in front of Nabokov. But he made up for it as his wrist shot flew past his screened Sharks teammate with 7:51 left in the first.

Canada added another when Evgeni Malkin turned over the puck at the Canadian blueline, and Rick Nash broke in and beat a diving Nabokov for a 3-0 lead just :46 after Boyle’s tally.

But with Canada holding all the momentum, Dmitri Kalinin beat Canada’s Roberto Luongo with 5:21 left in the period to stem the tide - but it was just a brief respite for the Russians.

Brenden Morrow beat Nabokov with 1:42 left in the frame for a 4-1 lead, driving to the net with the puck and beating him for a commanding three-goal lead.

It was a historically bad period for the Russians, who allowed four goals in one period for the first time in 50 years — in an 8-5 loss to Canada in the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics.

Things didn’t get much better for Russia in the middle frame, as Perry pulled Nabokov out of the net for a 5-1 edge just 3:10 into the second period. Shea Weber then added another just :57 later, and Nabokov was finally yanked after allowing 6 goals on 23 Canadian shots.

The Russians did strike back after the sixth tally as Maxim Afinogenov beat Luongo :39 later, but Perry scored on a nice feed from Eric Staal and beat Ilya Bryzgalov for a commanding 7-2 lead as the game was nine seconds short of the halfway mark.

In less than 30 minutes, the Russians allowed one more goal than they had in the round-robin portion of the tournament.

Sergei Gonchar did cut the lead by one with 8:20 left in the period with a blast from the point on a power-play, but Canada held a four-goal lead with 20 minutes to play.

The Russians did themselves no favor with two penalties to start the third period, and the red-clad squad only mustered minimal pressure on Luongo despite trailing by a 7-3 count.

To add injury to insult, Ovechkin also hurt his right hand trying to catch a puck with his palm in the game’s final minutes, but he was able to return before the game’s final horn.

Semin was involved in an altercation late as well, as after the Russian earned a penalty with less than three minutes to go, Boyle slewfooted the Capital to the ice by taking his skates out from behind and throwing him to the ice.

The Canadians, who struggled in their last two games of the round-robin portion of the tournament, have come alive offensively, scoring 15 goals in the medal-round wins over Germany and Russia, while allowing just five. They also gained a measure of revenge on the Russians for ousting them in the 2006 Turin quarterfinals.

“We played an awesome game for 60 minutes,” Luongo told the press afterwards. “We played a great game.”

“I saw a team that wants to win and play smart hockey and another team that didn’t play smart hockey and didn’t play with passion,” Bryzgalov told AP. “I don’t know why. Every one of us has to ask this question of themselves.”

Next up for the hosts will be the defending Olympic champions from Sweden, or the Slovakians. The United States will play the Finns in Friday’s early semifinal.

The Russians head home with a 2-1-1 record, and certainly will raise several questions after coming into the tournament as a strong contender and folding quickly against the talented Canadian team. Should the next Winter Olympics have NHL players, the host Russians certainly will need to put on a better performance in front of the crowds in Sochi.

And while Crosby or Ovechkin didn’t register a point in the match, it certainly is a bitter end to the Washington star’s second Olympic tournament. Ovechkin finishes with two goals and two assists in four games and another trip home without any hardware, while his Caps teammate Semin finishes with two assists.

“We don’t understand what happened,” Ovechkin told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “We made too many mistakes. I don’t know why. Canada today was so better than us in every aspect.”

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