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TEAM CANADA FACES TEAM RUSSIA WEDNESDAY

Wednesday, 02.22.2006 / 10:16 AM / News
Arizona Coyotes
Canada vs. Russia 2:30 PM EST

In their storied Olympic histories, Canada and Russia have combined for 14 gold medals since 1924. One of them will be disappointed on Wednesday.

After getting through the preliminary rounds, Canada and Russia will meet in a single-elimination quarterfinal matchup.

"This is when the tournament really starts, everything else up to this point is just a buildup, a warm-up," Canadian captain Joe Sakic said. "Now is when you've got to play."

It will be the first meeting between the countries in Olympic play since the finals at the 1992 Albertville Games - before NHL players were permitted to participate. The Unified Team, created after the breakup of the Soviet Union, defeated Canada 3-1.

Russia has won eight golds, compared to Canada's six. Each country has won 12 medals since 1924.

"Any time you play them it's a great hockey game," Sakic said of the rivalry. "There's a great history there and it's exciting."

If Canada wins, it will play the winner between Finland and the U.S. in the semifinals on Friday.

Canada clinched third place in Group A with a 3-2-0 record after a 3-2 win Monday over the Czech Republic. After being shutout in their previous two-plus games - a span of 129 minutes, 11 seconds - the Canadians got goals from Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis and Chris Pronger in an 11:47 span of the first period to take a lead they would not surrender.

"A couple of goals helps the confidence," said Pronger, considered Canada's best offensive defenseman. "Finally getting a win after a couple of games gives everyone a lift."

Martin Brodeur, who helped backstop Canada to gold at the 2002 Salt Lake Games, finished with 31 saves. He appeared to be favoring his left knee during the second period, but said it wasn't a problem.

"The worst thing for us was probably getting the lead early," Brodeur said. "We sat back after that, but in the end we held on and got a good performance out of our guys."

Ryan Smyth, Pronger's teammate on the Edmonton Oilers, said the Canadians started playing the way they expected.

"The big thing was we came back from a bad spell," Ryan Smyth said. "We played more like a team and regained that focus."

Canada started sluggishly in 2002, going 1-1-1 in preliminary round play at Salt Lake. Once in the medal round, though, the Canadians posted a 2-1 win over Finland in the quarters and routed surprising Belarus 7-1 in the semifinals.

Canada then won its first gold medal in 50 years with a 5-2 triumph over the United States. It has not won back-to-back Olympic golds since the 1948 St. Moritz and 1952 Oslo Games.

Russia improved to 4-1-0 and finished second in Group B with a 5-4 win Tuesday over the United States. Former San Jose Sharks forward Alexander Korolyuk and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Evgeni Malkin scored 1:14 apart midway through the first period to stake the Russians to the lead.

Montreal Canadiens teammates Andrei Markov and Alexei Kovalev and NHL rookie of the year favorite Alexander Ovechkin also scored. Evgeni Nabokov made seven saves in the first period before being replaced by Maxim Sokolov to save the Sharks' star for the quarterfinals.

Sokolov made 23 saves in his first action of the Olympics.

Like Canada, Russia struggled in round-robin play at the Salt Lake Games, scoring just nine goals en route to a 1-1-1 record. In the medal round, the Russians topped the Czech Republic 2-1 in the quarterfinals before losing to the U.S. 3-2 in the semis.

At Turin, though, Russia has scored a tournament-best 23 goals. Seven Russians are among the top 30 in scoring led by Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk with a goal and seven assists.

"We're trying to bring our hockey back to what you used to watch on TV as a young kid - moving the puck, making fancy plays," said Kovalev, the Russian captain.

The Russians said they look forward to the challenge from Canada. "It's going to be fun," said Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored all four of his goals in a 9-2 rout of Latvia on Sunday. "(We've) got a lot of young players who are looking forward to playing Canada. "If we want to win, we have to beat them sometime, whether it's the quarterfinals or anything else."

 
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