BERNE – Two mistakes was all it took. An opportunistic Russia took advantage of Canadian errors and defeated Canada 2-1 to win gold for the second year in a row against its archrivals. Alexander Radulov scored the second-period winner.
Midway through the first period Canadian defenceman Braydon Coburn shot the puck out of the rink in his own end, and Oleg Saprykin capitalized on the ensuing power play. Midway through the second period, Coburn pinched unwisely at the Russian blueline, leading to Radulov's winner.
"It was like a playoff game," Radulov said. "Instead of being a best-of-seven, it was a best of one. We know the way they play, and they know the way we operate. I think we started the game better than they did, but by the second period they got more shots. Our goalie was outstanding."
"We didn't take advantage of our opportunities and they did," said Canada's coach, Lindy Ruff. "Bryzgalov didn't make any mistakes or let us back in the game," he added of the Russian goalie.
Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov agreed. "We didn't get many chances, but we scored on those we had."
Both teams started nervously, but play opened up after Shane Doan took an interference penalty at 3:20. The Russian power play was spectacular, and goalie Dwayne Roloson made two incredible pad saves to keep the game goalless.
Doan came out of the penalty box and immediately contributed to the first goal of the game. Shea Weber delivered another one of his lethal point shots, and although Ilya Bryzgalov made the save. Doan got to the puck first and made a phenomenal back pass across the crease. Jason Spezza, alone and with an empty net, merely had to tap the puck over the goal line at 5:37 to give Canada the early lead.
The Canadians played flawless hockey for the next several minutes, generating good scoring chances at one end and standing the Russians up at their own blueline at the back end. But the team’s momentum was stopped in its tracks by a delay of game penalty to Braydon Coburn after he shot the puck over the glass from behind his own net. Just 36 seconds later, Vitali Atyushov’s point shot was deflected in front by Oleg Saprykin, and the game was tied.
This time it was the Russians who kept pressing, and Roloson made yet another remarkable reaction save from in close to keep it 1-1.
The tension thickened in the second period as teams flew up and down the ice and exchanged scoring chances. Stylistically, there couldn’t have been a greater difference as Canada shot the puck in and chased it down while time and again the Russians skated it in. Either way, both teams were dangerous when they established possession in the offensive end.
One other less appealing difference was the penchant of some Russians to play like Jacques Cousteau and dive. The experienced refereeing team of Peter Orszag (Slovakia) and Jyri Rönn (Finland) would have none of it, though, motioning several times for fallen Russians to get up and play.
And then there was tournament MVP Ilya Kovalchuk. He was double-shifted all night long by coach Vyacheslav Bykov, and by the end of the night the superstar had played more than half of the game – 30:33, to be exact.
The flow and pace were frenetic, and there were times when you’d swear Canada was dominating and it was only a matter of time before the Canucks would score the go-ahead goal. But just then the Russians would counter attack and create their own chances, and you were certain it would be they who would go up 2-1.
And then came a mistake. Coburn pinched in at the Russian blueline unsuccessfully. Alexander Radulov broke out with the puck and dashed the length of the ice on a two-on-one. He wasn’t going to pass, though. Radulov faked defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Roloson, and rifled a shot to the far side at 14:50 for a 2-1 Russian lead.
Canada outshot the Russians 16-5 in the middle period, but it was the Russians who went to the dressing room with a one-goal lead after 40 minutes.
Just as a year ago when Canada had the lead after two periods, the Russians came out for the third tonight showing little interest in generating offence. Content to sit on the lead, they ragged the puck, chipped it out, and let Canada control the puck, hoping for a counter attack.
"We tried to play good defence and be patient," Bykov said of his third-period strategy, "but it isn't easy against an opponent like Canada."
With less than two minutes to play, Canada had a great chance to score when Denis Grebeshkov turned the puck over in the Canadian end. The Maple Leaf squad turned the puck back up ice to Shane Doan, but he couldn't control the puck or he would have had a breakaway.
What Canada failed to do last year in the third period Russia did masterfully today, thanks to some great goaltending by Bryzgalov, the player of the game for Russia, who stopped 37 of 38 shots. Roloson, meanwhile, made several great saves but faced only 17 shots on the night.
"It is pretty disappointing," Roloson said. "We came here to win the gold and didn’t, so when you don’t reach your goals, you are not satisfied. We’re not down because to the way we played; we are down because of the result of the game."
And so, for the second consecutive year, Russia stands atop the world of international hockey at the expense of Canada.
"I don’t think this is a dynasty for them by any means," said Dany Heatley. "They have some good young players, but so do we. We have some of the best young players in the world in Canada, especially the young guys coming up. It will be a good rivalry for years to come."