Russia's new top line, with two Malkin goals, tops Czechs, 4-2
February 22, 2010 10:00 AM
Gene J. Puskar/Associated press
Center Evgeni Malkin is congratulated at the Russian bench after the first of two goals Sunday.
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
Pavel Datsyuk watches as Alexander Ovechkin congratulates Evgeni Malkin after Malkin scored a goal for Russia in the first period of Sunday's preliminary round game against the Czech Republic.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Talk about a 1-2 punch.
If there were any doubts about whether or not Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin could coexist on the ice, they were obliterated with one seismic sequence in Russia's 4-2 victory against the Czech Republic Sunday at Canada Hockey Place.
As Malkin, who would finish with two goals and an assist, described it with a smile, "I think it's a great moment of the Olympic Games," and he probably was not overstating it ...
The Czechs' Jaromir Jagr had just made one dipsy-doodle move in the neutral zone, then tried another when Ovechkin lined him up and crushed him in the center circle. All 6 feet 2, 230 pounds of Jagr went flying backward with the same force of his approach, a jarring sight given Jagr's famed strength on his skates.
Alexander Semin, the other member of Malkin's new line, took that loose puck and skated up the left side on a two-on-one with Malkin, then fed the Penguins' star for a one-timer buried behind Tomas Vokoun to put the Russians ahead, 3-1, 1:49 into the third period.
It was Malkin's team-best third goal of the Olympics, and his tournament totals are a team-best five points, 14 shots and plus-2 rating.
But all the buzz afterward, with ample cause, was Ovechkin's hit.
"Awesome," Russian winger Ilya Kovalchuk said. "It changed the game."
"Alex is a guy who always has a good read on the play," defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "He read Jagr well, and he made a nice, clean hit. That gave us a lot of momentum, and we scored right away."
The principal players, it seemed, were the only ones downplaying it.
"It's the Olympics, and that's going to happen," Ovechkin said. "A lot of our players were going hard like that."
Jagr was unhurt. Physically, anyway.
"I don't really care how I feel," he said. "It just doesn't look good. I feel horrible that I made the turnover."
Neither Malkin nor Ovechkin had performed to par in Russia's first two games, this despite visible effort. So, coach Slava Bykov -- with input from general manager Vladislav Tretiak -- elected to load up a first line, and it paid off handsomely as those three were dangerous just about every time over the boards and registered 10 of Russia's 31 shots.
"It's a good line," Malkin said, a small laugh underscoring his understatement. "We played simple today. It's a great feeling. Everybody went hard to the net, and everybody came back."
Gonchar's assessment of the line: "Not bad."
Malkin's first goal opened the scoring at 15:13 of the first, with his bad-angle rebound shot on the power play. This followed a Gonchar point shot and Ovechkin's second crack.
Ovechkin was the first to leap into Malkin's arms after the goal, a telling sign given their history of rancor on and off the ice.
Malkin's assist came on Pavel Datsyuk's empty-netter. Viktor Kozlov also scored for Russia. Tomas Plekanec and Milan Michalek scored for the Czechs, the latter narrowing Russia's lead to 3-2 with 5:09 remaining.
It was both teams' preliminary-round finale and, though both finished 2-1, Russia won Group B on point differential and earned a bye into the quarterfinals.