Yesterday's quarterfinal matchup between Canada and Russia had a lot of hype surrounding it. And why not?
Canada versus Russia, where Canada has not beaten the Russians in Olympic competition for 50 years.
Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin, where the two best players in the world collide after their monumental playoff clash last year.
Canada versus Russia, where both were considered gold medal contenders before the Olympics started.
Yes, this was billed as a game for the ages—one that would go down in the annals of hockey history alongside memories of '72 and '87.
While last night's game is sure to last in people's memories, it is because of the walloping that Canada put on the Russians rather than for the evenly matched play.
In defeating the Russians 7-3, Canada sent one of the gold medal favorites home without a medal of any kind, and they did so in style.
Canada came out of the gate with fire in their eyes and the crowd roaring at their backs, as Ryan Getzlaf opened the scoring at 2:21 of the first. That goal pushed the screaming crowd into a frenzy that seemed to buoy the Canadian players.
Canada continued to roll with goals by Dan Boyle at 12:09 and Rick Nash at 12:55 to push the frenzied crowd over the edge and put the Russians back on their heels.
The Russians' Dmitri Kalinin got one back at 14:39 to make it a 3-1 game, but Canada's Brenden Morrow answered back at 18:18 to restore the three-goal lead.
The Canadian employed a highly physical style throughout the game by body-checking any player in a red sweater at every opportunity. It was clear that the goal was to physically punish the speedy, skilled Russians in order to get them off of their game—and it worked.
The teams went to the first intermission with Canada dominating a 4-1 game. At that point, you had to think that the Russians would replace goaltender Evgeni Nabokov with Ilya Bryzgalov to start the second and give the Russians new life.
Unfortunately for Russia, that was not to be. Instead, they came out with the same lineup, and Canada continued to abuse them physically and on the scoreboard.
The result was three more goals for Canada in the second and two by the Russians for a 7-3 score after two. Team Russia did finally pull Nabokov when the score was 6-1 for Canada, but the game was already out of reach at that point.
Final score: Canada 7, Russia 3
1. Canada is hitting their stride. They say that in the Olympic tournament, your team needs to get better with each game in order to have a chance at winning a medal. Since it's such a short tournament and there isn't much practice time for the players beforehand, coming together as a team and finding chemistry is paramount.
While over the first four games Canada has only been getting contributions from the Crosby and Joe Thornton lines, last night the third and fourth lines picked up the slack.
With goals by Getzlaf, Rick Nash, Morrow, and two by Corey Perry, Canada's offense showed up just in time. This balanced four-line attack could not have come at a better time given the magnitude of the game versus Russia.
Canada's four-pronged attack meant that the thin Russian defensive corps had too many players to shut down, and they just couldn't handle them all.
2. Canada's physicality was a key factor in the win. A major component of Team Canada's game plan was to physically punish the Russians in order to get them off of their game. This is the same strategy that had worked for Canada against Ovechkin and Team Russia in the 2005 World Junior Championship, with Mike Richards leading the charge.
The result of Canada's physical domination of Russia in 2005 was a World Junior Championship. As an ancillary benefit, Ovechkin was kept off the scoreboard and eventually had to leave the game due to injury.
In yesterday's 7-3 win, Ovechkin was again shot off the scoreboard, had only three shots on net, and finished the game with a -3 rating.
3. Roberto Luongo has arrived. While no one ever doubted the skill level of Luongo, he doesn't exactly have a track record of success.
Over his first six years in the NHL, Luongo played a grand total of zero playoff games. Since arriving in Vancouver for the 2006-2007 season, Luongo has played a total of 22 playoff games with 11 wins and 11 losses. Hardly All-Star numbers.
As a prelude to yesterday's game, many Canadian fans and hockey experts were speculating as to whether Team Canada playing Luongo against Russia was the right move. At the same time, there was a sense that this game could become a career-defining moment for Roberto.
While Canada completely outplayed Russia from start to finish and Luongo wasn't needed to be a difference maker, he was called upon to make some difficult saves and was equal to the challenge. Whether yesterday's win ultimately becomes the turning point for Luongo from a championship perspective remains to be seen.
What we do know, however, is that he didn't wilt under the pressure like he did against Chicago last year. This bodes well for the rest of the tournament and maybe even for the Canucks' playoff hopes this spring.
4. Drew Doughty is a force for Canada. When the tournament started, there was a lot of talk that the Team Canada brain trust were on the fence about bringing Doughty on board. Not because of his skill, mind you, but more because he is so young and inexperienced in big games.
Steve Yzerman et al. eventually decided to make Doughty part of the team, and it has paid dividends for them every game.
Despite his young age (20), Doughty has been the best and most consistent defenseman for Canada all tournament long.
Along with Shea Weber, Doughty is logging the most minutes, is being used in all of the critical situations, and is making great passes and even better defensive plays.
In addition, he hits hard and generally makes players around him better. He is an all-world player and will be manning the Canadian blue line for years to come.
Yesterday's quarterfinal matches produced some surprising results, as with Slovakia upsetting the defending Olympic champs, Sweden, 4-3. In other matches, Finland beat the Czech Republic 2-0, and USA won 2-0 over the Swiss.
The semifinals, which start on Friday the 26th, will see Canada take on the surprising Slovaks and Finland doing battle with the U.S.
With all due respect to Slovakia and Finland, I predict that we will end up seeing a Canada-U.S. rematch on Sunday in a gold medal grudge match, with Canada coming out as the victors.
The momentum that Canada gained in their 7-3 trouncing of the Russians last night should continue to grow and carry them to gold.
Then again, gold medals aren't won on shoulds or coulds.
Let's see what happens!
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