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Russians blank USA in intense Olympic hockey showdown


US fans during the men’s ice hockey preliminary round group B game between the Olympic Athletes from Russia and the United States during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung on February 17, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES

Ilya Kovalchuk and Nikolai Prokhorkin each scored two goals and the Olympic Athletes from Russia blanked arch-rival United States 4-0 in an electric atmosphere on Saturday at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic men’s hockey tournament.

Russia has not won Olympic hockey gold since 1992 but an all-star OAR lineup from the country’s two top clubs showed the skill and tenacity that made them 2018 favourites, securing a quarter-final berth with the win.

Slovakia, which upset the Russians 3-2 in their opener, faced Slovenia in a later match, but the emotional and hard-hitting USA-Russia showdown was the day’s marquee event.

The political rivals stirred passions long before players began warming up as rowdy fans waved Russian and US flags with chants of “U-S-A” and “Russ-i-a” — screaming that only grew louder as the game unfolded in an intense setting.

While US coach Tony Granato played down any “Miracle on Ice” repeat talk, there were echoes of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic upset of the Soviet Union by a collection of US amateurs.

With NHL talent absent for the first time since 1994 over money issues and injury fears, a young US squad with four college stars and mostly Europe-based talent faced an all-star lineup from Russia’s two best clubs, including five-time Olympians and ex-NHL stars Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk.

But these Americans found no goals, much less miracles.

Bobby Sanguinetti and Datsyuk traded early hits against the boards to set a physical tone, with rock music during breaks and crowd noise feeding into the game’s quick-pace tempo.

Two shove-filled melees exchanged near the Russian goal heated player emotions until they boiled over 91 seconds before the end of the second period.

US forward Chris Bourque, the smallest man on the ice, answered a takedown by going after Prokhorkin, who responded in kind as both were sent off for roughing.

The Russians were already leading 2-0 by then thanks to a Prokhorkin brace.

Kovalchuk blasted a shot past US goaltender Ryan Zapolski from the right faceoff circle with 0.2sec remaining in the period, boosting their lead to 3-0.

Kovalchuk struck again 28 seconds into the third period, zipping a laser shot from the opposite circle for a 4-0 Russian edge.

Russian goaltender Vasili Koshechkin made 29 saves in the shutout.

The red-clad Russians opened the scoring 7:21 into the game, the unguarded Prokhorkin at the crease tapped in Sergei Mozyakin’s pass.

Prokhorkin rifled a slapshot from the top of the left faceoff circle past Zapolski 2:14 into the second period to double the Russians’ lead.

– Czechs edge Canada –
Jan Kovar and Petr Koukal scored in a penalty shootout to lift the Czech Republic to a 3-2 win over defending champion Canada 3-2. Canada could still qualify directly for the quarter-finals by beating South Korea on Sunday.

“We have to keep our heads up and come in tomorrow confident. We can’t dwell on it,” said Canada’s Maxim Noreau, whose final shootout effort clanked off the left post to seal the Czech triumph.

“It was a good game for us,” Canada coach Willie Desjardins said. “We created lots of chances. Now we move ahead. We know we have to get better.”

The Czechs would clinch a quarter-final spot Sunday by beating Switzerland, which routed South Korea 8-0.

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