Thursday, February 25, 2010
The Canadians are angry. Angry that they looked sluggish against Norway. Angry that they needed a shootout to beat Switzerland. And most of all, angry that they lost to the United States. In their own country. Playing their sport.
Now Canada is playing angry. It was the Canadians who were supposed to be the No. 1 seed, supposed to secure their place in the quarterfinals in the round robin. Instead, they were forced to play an extra game to earn a quarterfinal bid, and that made them angry. So they came out and blitzed a completely overmatched Germany team 8-2. As a reward, they were forced to take on the team many considered the second most talented behind the Canadians — Russia, with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kavalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Gonchar and a whole slew of former and current NHLers.
This also made them angry. Angry that they had to face such stiff competition so early on. Angry that people dared to question whether or not the Russians were just as good, some cases even better than Canada. So they came out angry, starting with a great, physical shift by Mike Richards, Jonathan Toews and Rick Nash, who were brilliant as a line all night, and went from there. A Ryan Getzlaf goal here (assisted by Chris Pronger, by the way), Dan Boyle power play tally there and a Rick Nash breakaway goal started by a great breakout pass by Richards to Toews, who hit Nash right in stride, and Canada was up 3-0 before you could blink.
At that moment, I proclaimed that this one was over. My roommates scoffed at the notion, saying with all the firepower the Russians had, no lead was safe. I told them, believe me, that with Roberto Luongo in net, with the Canadians absolutely dominating, that this one was over. I was 100 percent sure of it. Then the Russians answered with a goal, had some really nice shifts, and my roommates seemed vindicated … until Brenden Morrow scored again for Canada before the first period was through: 4-1 Canada just 20 minutes in. Game, set, match.
It was all Canada all the time from there. You could just sense that they knew they were taking this Olympics for granted, almost as if it was their god-given right to win gold in their home country. It's not quite that simple. Not with NHLers spanning the globe, not just Canada. But last night, you could just see that the Canadians sense that now. They know now the work they have to do, and with this all-star roster, their potential is limitless. It took a loss at the hands of the U.S. for them to realize, but they now realize it.
Mike Babcock found out the hard way that you can't keep juggling lines, can't keep only sending out the Crosbys and Thorntons. You can't rely on an aging veteran in net, even if he still has it, when there is clearly a more talented netminder. Last night, Babcock coached the game like an NHL game, not an all-star exhibition. He rolled four lines, put his best defensive lines out against Ovechkin — which just happened to be led by Philadelphia's Mike Richards, along with Nash and Toews. He gave everyone their ice time, and the Canadians were just too much for the Russians to handle.
Canada blitzed Ovechkin and company from the start, throwing their weight around, grinding it out and winning every battle. Russia looked as though it was content to just wait for odd man rush opportunities, and defense didn't interest them in the slightest. There was no aggression, no fight, no intensity coming from the Russian side, unless you count a couple big hits and dirty plays. No, Canada was the aggressor, the intimidator, the dominator.
Anaheim Ducks teammates Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were incredible. Getzlaf got things started with his goal, added two beautiful assists and in my opinion, was the best player who took the ice last night. He was truly awesome, doing everything you'd expect: using his big body to get to the net and hitting anything that moves, making plays, and controlling the play. And his Anaheim teammate scored twice himself, making up somewhat for his lackadaisical effort going back for a puck that allowed Ryan Kessler to beat him to it and score his remarkable diving empty-net goal.
Dan Boyle had a three-point night, scoring a power play goal and adding two assists. Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith continued to be the most dynamic defense pair. Pronger and Scott Niedermayer looked anything but old. And Richards-Toews-Nash completely shut down Ovechkin and company, having their most impressive game for sure.
Oddly enough, it was the Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla duo that had the quietest night, though Crosby was quietly awesome, winning puck battles, winning faceoffs, exploding up the ice and even throwing some nice body checks. Basically, the Canadians put it all together. They harnessed all their talent and directed all their anger toward the Russians, and they came out with a dominant 7-3 win, chasing Evgeni Nabokov, who was just dreadful, and taking advantage of the Russian "defense."
The last two games, the Canadians looked nearly unbeatable. That's why I still think they'll win it all, round robin struggles be damned. Tomorrow, they take on Slovakia, a team with considerably less talent. If they win, which it's hard to believe they won't, they'll take on either Finland or the U.S. And the way they're rolling, I don't expect either one to stop them. Not on their home ice. Not after a loss at the hands of their brethren to the south. Not with their entire nation cheering them on.
However, the U.S. and even Finland have something that no other teams in this tournament besides Canada have: dominant goaltenders. The Fins have Miikka Kiprusoff, the tremendous goalie for the Calgary Flames (not to mention the most underrated defenseman in all the land, Philadelphia's own Kimmo Timonen). He stopped 31 shots in Finland's 2-0 victory over the Czechs, shutting out the likes of Tomas Pleknaec, Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr. We've all seen him carry the Flames before, so it's no stretch to see him stand on his head yet again. And the U.S. has Ryan Miller, and no goaltender on the planet is playing any better than Ryan Miller has this season and is in these Olympics.
He was brilliant against the Canadians the first time around. He stopped all 19 shots he faced yesterday to help the U.S. advance. And he's been locked in all season long. With the way Canada has come roaring out of the gates in this medal round, a hot goaltender may be the only think that can stop them. Though I wouldn't bet on it. The Canadians have a damn good goaltender of their own. And they're angry. You wouldn't like to face the Canadians when they're angry. Just ask Germany and Russia.