By Josh Ferguson
Team USA claimed Group A supremacy from the Canadians and collect a bye to the quarterfinals with a 5-3 victory at Canada Hockey Place on Sunday night.
Russia got a pair of goals from Evgeni Malkin to take a 4-2 win over the Czech Republic in their final preliminary game at Canada Hockey Place on Sunday.
With Czech star Jaromir Jagr serving two minutes for holding, the Russians converted on the ensuing power play to open the scoring when Pavel Datsyuk showed some keen soccer skills by kicking a loose puck to Malkin who buried it past Czech keeper Tomas Vokoun.
Russia got into some penalty trouble after the Malkin goal and the Czechs found themselves with a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:47 at the end of the first period. Tomas Plekanec would make their Group B opponents pay when Patrick Elias slid a nifty blind pass from the top of the circle that Plekanec handled before spinning around and firing it past Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov.
After a first period where the play was dominated by Russia – outshooting their opponents 12-5 – the Czechs were able to slow down the speedy Russians by controlling the puck in the second. Despite being outshot 9-7 in the middle stanza, Russia picked up the period’s lone goal thanks to Viktor Kozlov to take a 2-1 lead into the break.
The third period opened with a bang – literally – when Alex Ovechkin absolutely obliterated Jagr on a punishing open-ice hit in the neutral zone. The puck slid right to Russian defender Fedor Tyutin who made a head-man pass to Alexander Semin before the Washington Capital made a beauty backhand, cross-crease pass that Malkin finished off for his second of the game.
Milan Michalek made it a one-goal game for the Czech Republic with five minutes left in the third, but the Czechs would never recover after the game-changing hit by Ovechkin on Jagr.
Datsyuk, who was excellent while being matched up against Jagr all game, potted an empty-netter to solidify a 4-2 victory.
Nabokov stood tall when he needed to for Russia and made 23 saves on 25 shots for the win. At the other end, Vokoun turned aside 28 of the 31 shots he faced.
It wasn’t a complete victory for the Russians as Sergei Zinovyev did not play in the third period. Zinovyev had his leg rolled-up on by David Krejci after Alexander Radulov send the young Czech flying on a body check. If Zinovyev is unable to play in the quarterfinals, the Russians will only be skating with 11 forwards after only naming 12 to their final Olympic roster.
With the win, Russia (2-0-0-1) claims top spot in Group B and will get a bye to the quarterfinals. The Czech Republic (2-1-0-0) will likely be in action on Tuesday in a qualification game against an undetermined opponent.