Russia bears down
Russia bears down
Home team advance to QF past Norway, 4-0
The multitalented but much-maligned CSKA Moscow star played his best game of the tournament, providing Russia with much-needed energy after a dreadful first period, in which the last-seeded Norwegians looked at least as good as the home team.
Radulov’s speed and physicality were the difference in an otherwise lukewarm effort by the Russians, who will advance in the tournament with questions about their cohesiveness and offensive spark persisting.
"Radulov doesn't need to prove anyting to anyone", said Ilya Kovalchuk of his linemate's performance. "He is usually very energetic, he moves a lot and creates opportunities. He is a good player."
Team captain Pavel Datsyuk finished up with three assists and goaltender Sergei Bobrovski had his first shutout of the tournament. Bobrovski and Semyon Varlamov have now kept the Russian goal safe for the last 140 minutes and 11 seconds of playing time.
"The chances we create, we have to score on", said Alexander Ovechkin after the game. "Especially the 100-percent chances. We must hit the net. This means myself, Syomin, Malkin and everyone else."
Ovechkin, arguably Russia's most dynamic scoring talent who currently leads the NHL in goals, has not been able to hit the net after scroing on his first shift of the tournament.
This was the fourth meeting between these opponents at the Olympics, counting the two games Norway played against Russia’s predecessors, Soviet Union and the Unified Team. The Russians were 3-0 with the 18-2 overall edge in goals.
Norway had to play its most important game of the tournament without its only current NHLer, Mats Zuccarello, who had suffered a hand injury in the previous game against Austria. As for Russia, the hosts scratched defenceman Ilya Nikulin and dressed forward Viktor Tikhonov. The grandson and full namesake of the famed Soviet coach didn’t get on the Olympic ice until the second period, when he replaced Valeri Nichushkin on the fourth line.
The game started slowly, with Russia predictably enjoying a huge advantage in puck possession but unable to get many scoring chances in the early going to really energize the sell-out partisan crowd. It fell to the fans to provide the initiative with the traditional “Shay-bu!” chant. This was a far cry from the electric atmosphere of the first couple of game for the Russians, however, and the Nordic skaters appeared to be completely unfazed by the hostile environment.
"Everyone was nervous, not just the fans", said Kovalchuk. "We really wanted to score fast, so we ran after it and at somepoint got off our team game."
Russia’s only quality chance of the opening frame came with about a minute left when Alexander Syomin flew into the zone on the right side, but his shot from close quarters couldn’t beat Lars Haugen. A follow-up slapper by Yevgeni Medvedev was turned aside, too, as Haugen, without his stick, had to quickly recover from the collision with Syomin.
Norway, however, was very much Russia’s equal in the first, and this chance was immediately followed by a decent opportunity for Anders Bastiansen, who shot from the slot was forced Bobrovski to make a tough save. Overall, Russia only managed to outshoot Norway by the count of 7-6 in the first period.
The pace and direction of the game changed drastically in the second. Russia came out energized, turned up the tempo and spent the vast majority of the play in the opponent’s zone. Ironically, it was a lucky bounce, far from Russia’s signature offensive prettiness, that got the Red Machine going.
Radulov went cruising along the right side, circled behind the net and attempted to find Yevgeni Malkin in the crease. Radulov’s pass, however, ricocheted off Jonas Holos’s skate and slithered in between Haugen’s pads. Datsyuk wound up assisting on the first Russian non-Datsyuk goal since the opening game against the United States.
Neither of them was done, either as in the 38th minute they combined to set up Kovalchuk’s goal. Once again, the bounces went Russia’s way on this one. Radulov’s shot hit the post first and the back of Haugen’s leg after that. Just before crossing the line, the puck was tapped in by Kovalchuk for a 2-0 lead, which, given the pace and comparative talent of Norway’s offence, looked quite insurmountable.
"The disappointing game for us was against Austria", said Norway's Ken Andre Olimb. "That was the team to beat to get an easier opponent in the playoff round. They have really skilled players, so we talked about having good defence and keeping the score 0-0 as long as possible. Even when it was 2-0 in the third, we felt something might happen. A lucky bounce or a power play. But we couldn't score."
Far from giving up, however, Norway managed to create a few chances of its own in the third period, but the result of the game was never in any doubt. Russia tried to make it an official blowout, but Vladimir Tarasenko and Ovechkin were foiled on their breakaway attempts and the 2-0 scoreline had to suffice.
Eventually Radulov underlined his strong performance with an empty-netter with 67 seconds to go in regulation time. With Haugen back in the net, Alexei Tereshenko scored another goal for the final score of 4-0 with 40 seconds left.
"The way we played in the second period, is what we need to do (against Finland)", said Ovechkin. "The way we moved, got open and held the puck. Of course, we will need to capitalize on those chances we didn't use today. We will get ready. It will be a battle to the death. It will be war."
Russia will face Finland in the quarter-final at 16:30 at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Wednesday.
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