Russia advances despite test from Norway
SOCHI -- Ilya Kovalchuk said after Russia's shootout win against Slovakia on Sunday assured the host nation of having to play a qualification playoff game to advance to the quarterfinals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics that he would rather face Norway instead of just practicing.
That was some practice Russia had Tuesday.
Alexander Radulov scored twice to give Russia a 4-0 win against Norway, setting up a quarterfinal matchup with Finland on Wednesday (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).
"I think we didn't give them much and that's a good sign,” said Kovalchuk, who scored Russia's second goal of the game at 17:11 of the second period to create some breathing room for his team. "We have less than 24 hours to prepare for the next game. We have to take the time to prepare the best we can."
The high-powered Russian attack sputtered again one game after failing to score through 60 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime against Slovakia. Russia led 2-0 on Tuesday until Radulov scored his second of the game into an empty net at 18:53 of the third.
Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin each have one goal in four games as their line has been overshadowed offensively by Pavel Datsyuk's line with Radulov and Kovalchuk.
"The most important thing right now is the team," Ovechkin said. "It's not about personal stats, it's not about the goal-scoring lead. We're here to win the gold. It's not about winning scoring titles and all that kind of stuff."
If Norway was able to keep Russia at bay, one can only imagine what will happen against Finland, which lost 2-1 in overtime to Canada on Sunday in its final preliminary-round game.
"That is most important game for us," said Russia goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped 22 shots for the shutout. "It's like a final game."
The game was scoreless through one period and Russia generated few chances, creating a nervous energy among the 11,423 at Bolshoy Ice Dome that has been present for all four of Russia's games, only one of which has come against a traditional hockey power, Saturday against the United States.
"There are 12,000 supporters every game and that's to help us," Russia defenseman Andrei Markov said. "We just have to do our best on the ice so they can go home happy."
Norway's Olympic tournament came to an end without its best player in the lineup. New York Rangers forward and leading scorer Mats Zuccarello did not dress due to a left hand injury, leaving Norway shorthanded at the most crucial time. Captain Ole-Kristian Tollefsen took little consolation from playing two tight games against Canada and Russia and instead looked at where Norway fell short.
"Disappointing," Tollefsen said. "We didn't make our goal; that was the quarterfinals. It was a good game against Canada, I thought we battled hard and showed them what we're good for. Finland we didn't come out good enough, got behind the 8-ball right away and Austria too. That was the game we wanted to win and we're really disappointed we didn't. We would have played Slovenia [Tuesday] and maybe have a better chance."
However, the Norwegians played hard Tuesday and focused on protecting goaltender Lars Haugen, who sees several of the Russian players on a regular basis with HC Dinamo Minsk in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Haugen was up to the task Tuesday, stopping 27 shots, including a number of quality chances in the second period as Russia outshot Norway 14-6.
It was the second time Haugen allowed three goals against a hockey superpower after his 35-save effort in the opening game of the tournament against Canada.
"There wasn't that many shots; it was more just playing in our zone," Haugen said. "It was kind of the same thing against Canada, only they shoot a little bit more."
Russia's two goals in the second period were produced by the line of Datsyuk, Radulov and Kovalchuk.
Radulov opened the scoring at 13:08 on a lucky bounce, wheeling around the net and sending a pass in front that went in off Norway defenseman Jonas Holos.
"It's very important," Ovechkin said of getting the first goal. "It's the kind of situation when you feel free after that. We know we have to score one and they're going to give us more chances because they're probably going to play more aggressive in the neutral zone and give us more time and space."
It worked out exactly like that.
Russia began to buzz around the Norway zone after the Radulov goal, getting a number of quality chances in the following minutes. They made it 2-0 at 17:11 when Datsyuk found Radulov in front for a shot that hit the post but was tapped in by Kovalchuk.
"I feel like we were doing a pretty good job, but they get some lucky bounces at the start of the second," Haugen said. "Instead of them getting frustrated we started to get nervous. That was a little bit unlucky there for us."
Radulov scored into an empty net at 18:53 to make it 3-0 and Alexei Tereshenko scored shortly after that to make the score look like the game wasn't as close as it actually was.
But it was the insurance goal scored by Kovalchuk that ensured he wouldn't have to eat his words from two days prior, and Russia withstood a bit of a final charge from Norway in the third period to coast to victory.
With that a nation exhaled for a day, until the nerves return for Russia's quarterfinal game against Finland on Wednesday.
"They're a good team. They've got a good goalie and we have to find a way to beat him if we want a chance to win," Kovalchuk said of the Finns. "I think we play better and better with each game. Even with Slovakia I think we played well and created a lot of chances.
"We didn't score much but it was a big win for us [Tuesday]."