The intensity of the Sochi Olympics picked up Tuesday as elimination men’s hockey games began.
Surprising Slovenia got the first knockout round off to an interesting start when it shut out Austria to advance to the quarterfinals, but the eyes of the host nation were on the Russians in their do-or-die matchup against winless Norway.
It wasn’t anywhere near Russia’s best performance, but the home team prevailed 4-0 at Bolshoy Ice Dome (BOX SCORE) to set up a quarterfinal battle against Finland on Wednesday.
For the third straight game, Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin didn’t record a point. He centered a line of Alex Ovechkin and KHLer Alexander Popov, but Malkin had just two shots on goal to show for the effort. For the second straight outing, the Russians appeared disjointed, especially among the forward units.
In the midst of his offensive struggles, Malkin received 17:43 of ice time, the third-most among Russian forwards. The line of Alexander Radulov, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk carried the load, combining for three goals and three assists. Still, Russia led just 2-0 until the final minutes, inspiring further worry about the home side as the tourney continues.
As for the Penguins enjoying a bye to the quarterfinal round, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz were reunited on a line with the Bruins’ Patrick Bergeron in Team Canada’s Tuesday practice session. Crosby and Kunitz, who have proven to be very effective together in Pittsburgh for parts of the past three seasons, were separated for Canada’s final preliminary round game against Finland.
Canadian coach Mike Babcock cited the success Crosby and Kunitz have had with the Penguins as his primary reason for the readjustment. They skated in tandem in their first two Olympic games, which was presumably how Hockey Canada envisioned it when it selected Kunitz to the team in a controversial move north of the border.
Back in the relatively drama-free Team USA camp, coach Dan Bylsma confirmed what most suspected – that Kings star Jonathan Quick would tend goal for Wednesday’s quarterfinal against the Czech Republic. Although 2010 Olympic hero Ryan Miller came within a few seconds of a shutout Sunday against Slovenia, Bylsma will go back to the man who helped the Americans turn back Slovakia and Russia to start the tournament.
NHL.com’s Dan Rosen reported that Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik were paired up in drills, indicating that Bylsma will keep the defense pairings constant.
USA and Canada will play simultaneously at noon Eastern time Wednesday. If both teams win, they will collide in Friday’s semifinal round and set up a sure TV ratings bonanza for NBC and CBC. An incredible 27.6 million Americans watched the continental neighbors square off in the 2010 gold medal game.
Top seed Sweden starts Wednesday’s quarterfinals when it faces Slovenia at 3 a.m. Eastern, with Russia-Finland scheduled for 7:30. Penguins teammates Olli Maatta (2g, 2a) and Jussi Jokinen (1g, 2a) have enjoyed productive tournaments for the Finns.
Canada will face Latvia in its first elimination game.