If anything could exorcise the fears of Canadian hockey fans after a middling start to the Olympics, it would be a sound thrashing of the Soviets Russians. And against all odds, that was what happened last night, as Canada skated out to a 4-1 lead and finished the game off in convincing fashion with a 7-3 win over the Communist threat their long-time rivals.
Entering the game, Evgeni Nabokov had not been bad for Russia. The San Jose Sharks starter had a .911 SV%, which while not lovely was okay, but which wasn’t nearly as good as backup Ilya Bryzgalov (.939 SV%). Nabokov struggled against Canada, and while the defence didn’t help him out all that much he was the team’s biggest problem, and he ended up allowing six goals on 23 shots (.739 SV%). Bryzgalov was brought in far too late by head coach Vyacheslav Bykov, and although he shut the door (.947 SV% on 19 shots) it was already over.
The Canadians also did a good job of containing the Russian stars, particularly Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin who combined for just one assist and a minus-4 rating, but it was the offence that stole the show tonight, peppering Russia with 46 shots, and with some unlikely players standing: in fact every one of tonight’s three stars had been having lacklustre tournaments. Some familiar faces also continued to perform well; Jonathan Toews recorded two assists as did Duncan Keith while Shea Weber scored another goal. Once again, Luongo was more okay than brilliant, although he managed some solid saves.
The bottom line in all of this is that Canada can now finish no worse than fourth and is much closer to the gold medal game than they were just one day ago. The disaster that would have been finishing out of the top four has been averted, and the national soul-searching can be deferred to the Russian Federation.
1. Dan Boyle. The Sharks defenceman has not been especially good in this tournament, but all of that changed tonight as he scored a highlight reel goal, added two assists and led the team with a plus-3 rating. He looked every inch the veteran puck-moving defenceman that Steve Yzerman thought he had named to the team.
2. Ryan Getzlaf. Another player who had his best game of the tournament, Getzlaf opened the scoring just over two minutes in. He finished the night with three points, and threw a huge hit on Anton Volchenkov after the Russian defenceman knocked Eric Staal head-first into the boards.
3. Corey Perry. Two goals for Perry go a long ways towards making up for a brutal effort on Ryan Kesler’s empty net goal in Canada’s loss to the United States.