Ovechkin crushes Jagr, Malkin scores two goals to lead Russia past Czech Republic and into Olympic hockey quarterfinals
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Frustrated by the lack of scoring in Friday's shootout loss to Slovakia, Russia's coaching staff decided to change up the top line before Sunday's game against the Czech Republic, replacing Pavel Datsyuk with Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin.
The new combination turned out to be just the ticket as Malkin, flanked by rival Washington Capitals stars Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, scored twice on the way to a 4-2 victory at Canada Hockey Place, securing Russia's spot in the Olympic hockey tournament quarterfinals.
The line carried the play for Russia early in the game and picked up the pace again in the third, after Ovechkin's crushing hit on Jaromir Jagr led directly to the game-winning goal. Jagr was advancing through the neutral zone when he saw Ovechkin approaching him with obvious intentions. The Czech veteran cut across the ice to avoid Ovechkin but ended up directly in the Capitals captain's path. Ovechkin landed a perfect shoulder hit right into Jagr's face, sending the onetime Capital flying backward.
Semin collected the puck on the left wing and deftly slid it across the ice to Malkin, who one-timed it from a kneeling position to put Russia up by two goals 1 minute 39 seconds into the third period.
"I think every play is a big part of the game," Ovechkin said. "When you are trying to do something and play more physical, your team wakes up and will gain the momentum all the time."
"The momentum was great," defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "Alex had a good read on the play and he read it well. He did a nice clean hit. It always gives you that momentum, and we scored pretty much right away."
"Before you ask me any questions, I know I made a mistake," Jagr said with a smile after the game. "It was a big mistake. The hit, I don't really care [about], but it was a mistake to turn [the puck] over and they scored."
Asked about the last time he absorbed a hit like the one from Ovechkin, the 38-year-old former NHL star answered: "I don't remember. I don't remember anything anymore."
Ovechkin's actions on the power play led directly to Russia's first goal of the game at 15:13 of the first period. With a new assignment as a crease-crusher, the Capitals captain picked up a rebound in front of the net and made a shot on goal, which Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun stopped. Datsyuk then kicked the puck to Malkin, who was parked near the left goal post and knocked it in.
"Oh, I think it's a great moment of the Olympics Games," Malkin said. "After we score, of course it's a great moment."
The Czechs tied the game with 54 seconds left in the first after a questionable delay of game penalty by former Capitals center Sergei Fedorov left the Russians two men short. Patrick Elias sent a nifty backhand pass to Tomas Plekanec and the Montreal forward scored a beautiful goal, with a wrister to the far corner after a 180-degree spin.
"We played a good game," said Vokoun, who made 27 saves. "We ended up losing. It's a tournament and you have to shake it off pretty quickly if you want to go anywhere."
The second period featured some undisciplined play by the Russians. Semin was sent off after a tripping penalty deep in the Czech zone (something he has been known to do in Washington as well) and late in the period, Alexander Radulov drew the ire of Russian fans by pushing David Krejci right into his own teammate, Sergei Zinovyev. Radulov wound up with a two-minute minor for charging while Zinovyev, who had his leg pinned under Krejci as he fell, never returned. Russia, however, was fortunate to end the period up 2-1 after another former Capital, Viktor Kozlov, scored 14:34 in.
San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov stopped 23 shots for the Russians, who claimed first place in Group B with seven points. The Czechs had to wait until the end of the Sunday tripleheader to find out if they would get the wild-card spot or have to play in the qualification round.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.