published Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Canada routs Russia 7-3, surging into hockey semis

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    Canada's Ryan Getzlaf, left, celebrates after scoring past Russia's goalie Evgeni Nabokov (20) in the first period of a men's quarterfinal round ice hockey game at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Canada didn't need a complex game plan to wear down its biggest nemesis or punish Alex Ovechkin. Canada simply needed to be Canada.

The Canadians ended 50 years of Olympic hockey frustration against the Russians, surging into the Olympic semifinals with a 7-3 romp over the world champions Wednesday by going back to the game they play best.

A superpower showdown — one that may have been better suited for the gold-medal game than the quarterfinals — quickly became a super letdown as Canada manhandled the Russians' star forwards, took control early and never backed off.

It ended 7-3 and, for a while, it looked like it might be 17-3.

"They came out like gorillas out of a cage," backup goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov said.

The physical, focused Canadians took advantage of terrible goaltending by Evgeni Nabokov and superior depth and size to open leads of 3-0 and 4-1 in the first period and 6-1 early in the second period, and the unexpected rout was on.

"We just wanted to step on the gas pedal from the drop of the puck," defenseman Chris Pronger said.

Ovechkin? Hockey's most gifted scorer?

He was a nonfactor — no goals and no impact, the kind of game he almost never plays.

"I think we was not ready for first five minutes of game and when we wake up it was too late," Ovechkin said. "It was 3-0 and it's pretty hard to come back, especially that game."

The resurgent Canadians meet the Sweden-Slovakia winner in Friday's semifinals. If they advance, they might face the United States in a rematch of the 5-3 loss on Sunday.

That disappointment marked their first Olympic loss to the U.S. since 1960; the punishing win over Russia was their first since the same tournament in Squaw Valley and only the second in 11 Olympic games against the Russians or Soviets.

Long before it was over, fans began chanting, "We Want Sweden," just as they had asked for Russia the day before. After that, it was "We want gold."

On this day, Canada got all it wanted.

Corey Perry upstaged Russia's big-name, big-contract forwards with two goals, Shea Weber also scored and set the tone by upending Maxim Afinogenov with a board-rattling hit in the opening seconds and Ryan Getzlaf had a goal and two assists. And Dan Boyle frustrated Nabokov, his NHL teammate, by scoring a power-play goal and creating two others in the first period.

And that was only the start.

"We just wanted to wear on them, keep wearing on them," Weber said.

Almost as surprising as the score was how Canada pulled it off. Sidney Crosby went scoreless in a subordinate role, with less celebrated players and grit negating Russia's cast of stars and supposedly superior speed.

"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 said. "I don't know why. Every one of us has to ask this question of themselves."

Surprisingly, almost none of the pregame story lines played out, including Crosby vs. Ovechkin reprising hockey's best individual rivalry. The Canadians also didn't need a huge game in goal from Roberto Luongo or a shutdown defensive performance.

They simply needed to go back to playing traditional, get-tough, can't-knock-us-off-the-puck Canada hockey. And it worked better than coach Mike Babcock could have envisioned.

"It's always try to break their will, that's what you try to do out there, you're trying to break the other team," Getzlaf said.

Nabokov, whose NHL San Jose Sharks are perennial playoff underachievers, allowed several soft goals early, one to Sharks teammate Patrick Marleau, and the letdown was evident on a downcast Russian bench.

Coach Slava Bykov didn't pull Nabokov until Weber scored at 4:07 of the second to make it 6-1. Given the looks on the players' faces, the move came about two or three goals too late. After the game, Bykov apologized to Russian fans for the disappointing performance.

"They scored three minutes into the game (by Getzlaf) and they keep coming, keep coming," Nabokov said. "We weren't able to stop the bleeding and they played a hell of a game. I don't think they surprised us with the physicality but how hungry they were."

Russia, which beat Canada in each of the last two world championships, also seemed unprepared for Canada's aggression. Within the first few minutes, Russia quickly learned that speed isn't a factor when stars are being knocked off their skates before they can advance into the offensive zone.

"We wanted to be physical with everyone," Crosby said. "There was not a special order just to hit him (Ovechkin)."

Luongo, who took over for a benched Martin Brodeur after the U.S. loss, gave up goals to Dmitri Kalinin, Afinogenov and Sergei Gonchar while making 25 saves, but didn't need to be brilliant with all that was going on around him.

"We did a great job, not only on Ovie but against all their top guys," Luongo said. "We wanted to not give them much room to skate."

Babcock kept rolling his four lines and relying upon his much bigger defensemen to push around Russia's forwards — Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin were ineffective, too — and discourage them from trying to find open lanes.

"Surprised. No. Disappointed? Yes," Russian forward Pavel Datsyuk said.

Ovechkin, whose one-upmanship duels with Crosby keep getting better and better, was nearly a no-show. The word in the Russian camp — the players haven't talked much — was that Ovechkin was determined to play one of the best games of his life.

Instead, the two-time NHL MVP was about as invisible as hockey's top offensive player can be after being upended twice in the first period, and his trademark big hits and end-to-end rushes were missing.

And Ovechkin's braggadocio this week that Russia has the best of everything, especially hockey players? Just so much idle talk.

Canadian TV channels have aired for months a Sid the Kid vs. Alexander the Great special featuring the anticipated star showdown. Yet neither player — and who would have predicted this — had a point during a 10-goal game. When they last met in the NHL on Feb. 7, Ovechkin scored three goals and Crosby had two.

Instead, Rick Nash and Brenden Morrow also scored during the kind of dominating first period that Canada didn't seem capable of playing as it lost to the U.S. and nearly lost to Switzerland in its first three games. Those games caused a nervous nation to fear its beloved team wouldn't make it to the medal round.

Now, it's the two-time defending world champion Russians who will leave the Olympics without a medal for the second successive games.

"Same thing as if it was the Canadians," Bryzgalov said. "It's a disaster. The end of the world."

Russia lost in the bronze-medal game in Turin and hasn't won an Olympics under the Russian name since the Soviet Union breakup, although a 1992 gold won by the Unified Team is now recognized as a Russian gold.

If Canada goes on to win the gold medal, this dominating victory — which occurred on the eighth anniversary of its 2002 gold-medal victory over the U.S. in Salt Lake City — is likely to be mentioned with its 1972 Summit Series and 1987 Canada Cup triumphs over the Soviets.

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