Canada books date with Russia in quarterfinals
By Eric Duhatschek, CTVOlympics.ca
VANCOUVER – So now it comes down to this: Canada-Russia on Wednesday in men’s Olympic hockey, the winner to go on, the loser to go home.
Theoretically, the Russia-Canada match-up would have been better as the gold-medal final, but since that cannot happen, ticket holders for the second of Wednesday’s four quarter-final match-ups will be rewarded with a view of history, Canada trying to stay alive to win a hometown Olympic hockey medal, Russia standing in its way.
Canada took the necessary first step by defeating Germany 8-2 in Tuesday’s qualification-round game. As expected, the overmatched Germans gave it their all, understanding that an exceptional goaltending performance, or even a bit of good fortune, can help an underdog in a one-game, winner-take-all showdown.
But ultimately, Canada’s edge in every department – scoring, goaltending, special teams – tilted the scales in its favor. Joe Thornton‘s first goal of the tournament 10:13 into the opening period put Canada ahead to stay against an offensively challenged German team that had been previously shut out twice in the tournament.
Still, the Canadian team didn’t really collectively exhale until on odd sequence early in the second period, when Shea Weber‘s slap shot from the point passed right through the net. Play continued until the next stoppage, at which point a video review confirmed that an actual goal had been scored.
The referees put 38 seconds back on the clock and while the Germans collectively digested that unfortunate series of events, Jarome Iginla potted a power-play goal just over a minute later, making it 3-0 Canada and ending the suspense. Iginla eventually added a second goal, his fifth of the tournament, as the Canadians wore down Thomas Greiss’s resistance in the German goal.
As a player, Weber resembles the early Al MacInnis, someone who can occasionally be wild high with a devastating slap shot. But Weber’s shot is a weapon and it has been the only one that consistently sifted through from the point for Canada throughout the tournament.
From a Canadian perspective, the key to victory on Tuesday was not expending too much emotional energy in advance of the Russian game, something that can be acutely draining to a team playing for the second time in two nights.
That four-goal cushion at the midpoint of the game permitted coach Mike Babcock to run four lines and preserve the legs for tonight’s encounter against Russia.
Babcock’s new line combinations worked reasonably well, with Eric Staal nicely complementing Iginla and Crosby by providing strong corner work for the unit.
Naturally, Russia will represent a different kind of challenge. As the home team, Russia’s coach, Slava Bykov, will have the last line change; it remains to be seen whether Bykov will play a match-up game or simply roll lines. Potentially, Crosby could go head-to-head against his Pittsburgh Penguins’ teammate, Evgeni Malkin, who currently centers Ovechkin’s line.
“It’s going to be crazy,” predicted Russia’s Sergei Fedorov. “The fans will cheer for Team Canada. They will get great support.”
Marcel Goc broke Roberto Luongo‘s shutout attempt late in the second period, the first goal Luongo has permitted in the tournament. Greiss stopped Crosby on a second-period penalty shot; otherwise, the overall damage could have been worse.
On Thornton’s all-important ice-breaking first goal, Dany Heatley made an athletic play from behind the net to trap the bouncing puck in front of German defenceman Christian Ehrhoff and get it out in front to Thornton, who banged it in from the top of the crease.
It was the sort of goal that Canada hasn’t scored often enough in this tournament – executed at high speed before Greiss could get set.
Ideally, what the Canadian shooters want are a few more uncontested chances, which happened in the third period against Norway and then not again until the second period last night, when they turned the game into a shooting gallery against Greiss.
An issue all tournament long has been the ice conditions at Canada Hockey Place. With so many games being played here – three yesterday altogether – the pucks have been bouncing like a rubber ball, one reason the players on both sides have had to hesitate sometimes when making a play, waiting to settle the puck down.
As to the fact that the Canada-Russia encounter came so early in the tournament, Fedorov was philosophical, knowing that it as unlucky for the International Ice Hockey Federation’s No. 1 rated Russians as it is for the No. 2 rated Canadians.
“That’s the way it came out,” said Fedorov. “It’s the luck of the draw.”