Friday, February 22, 2002
Russia's flat start leads to semis loss
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- No refereeing conspiracy or North American bias could possibly explain why Russia's collection of superb offensive players wouldn't shoot and couldn't score at the Olympics until it was too late.
No team in the Olympic hockey tournament had less success integrating its superstar NHL players into a team concept than Russia, which relied on the brilliance of goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to advance as far as it did.
Russia scored just 10 goals -- six of those against lowly Belarus -- in its first four games in Salt Lake City. The Russians' firepower was amazing on paper, but they rarely hit their target or even got off a good shot in a confounding week of play.
In the Russians' 3-2 loss to the United States on Friday night, the Americans passed and shot circles around a team boasting prolific NHL scorers on every line. Only in the third period, when Russia faced a three-goal deficit, did its talented forwards begin to live up to their potential.
Russia didn't have these problems four years ago in Nagano, where Pavel Bure led the Olympics in goals. Russia scored 26 goals in its first five games in Japan before losing 1-0 to the Czech Republic in the gold medal game.
This year, the Russians will have to settle for bronze medals, pending a rematch with Belarus on Saturday -- and they have only their offense to blame. Bure, perhaps the most talented forward in the game, has one goal in the Olympics; Sergei Fedorov's two goals improbably lead the team.
The United States outshot the Russians from the opening faceoff on Friday, getting 20 shots in the first period despite never dominating the flow of play. The Americans made the most of their passing skills, while Russia skated and passed well -- but couldn't finish.
Coach Slava Fetisov stood stoically behind the bench as the Russians put on an exhibition of puck possession, but never broke free for more than a few good shots.
The theme continued in the second period. The United States took 33 shots in the first 28 minutes -- a staggering total, considering the Czech Republic managed just 41 against Russia while dominating their quarterfinal game on Wednesday.
After getting 11 shots in the first two periods, Russia threw 19 more at Mike Richter in the third, scoring twice. The Russians were a changed bunch, with their stars outskating the Americans as their NHL pedigrees suggested they should.
The Russians thought they had a third goal with less than 10 minutes to play, but Alexei Yashin's rebound shot ricocheted around the goal mouth and never crossed the line. Fetisov stood on the team bench with his arms outstretched, but referee Bill McCreary never consulted the videotape.
Russia threw several more shots at the net in the final minutes, but Richter held on for the victory. As Yashin, Bure, Sergei Samsonov and the rest of the Russian team lined up to shake hands, their faces bore the frustration of a wasted opportunity.