Russia upset by Slovakia in shootout

February, 19, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Pavol Demitra raised his arms to the rafters and invited his teammates to join him in the celebration.

Oh yeah, baby ... Slovakia can play hockey.

Demitra's shootout winner capped a dramatic upset win over powerhouse Russia, showing the depth of men's international hockey for the second straight game Thursday night.

Following Switzerland's near upset of Canada just hours before, Russia's star-studded squad was bottled up by Slovakia's incredible defensive performance, spear-headed by defenseman Zdeno Chara and goalie Jaroslav Halak.

The Montreal Canadiens goalie stopped Alex Ovechkin two out of three times in the shootout, as the Washington Capitals superstar was unable to match Sidney Crosby's heroics from earlier in the day. Guess it was too much to ask for that script twice in one exciting day at the Olympic hockey tournament.

Instead, a stunned Russian team tried to explain what happened.

"It's not frustrating," insisted Ovechkin, who decided to speak to the English-speaking media Thursday. "It's good to lose here during [the preliminary round]. We still have a chance to be No. 1 in our group. I think it's going to be better next game."

Halak's agent, Allan Walsh, was no doubt doing cart wheels somewhere. The goalie is a restricted free agent July 1 and his 36-save effort may have just gotten him a big raise.

"He played pretty good," said Ovechkin. "He was pretty amazing today. He made some good saves. We just have to score."

For Slovakia, which lost its opener to the rival Czechs, it was a memorable victory, although likely not its greatest since it captured its one and only world men's title in 2002.

"It's a big win," said Chara. "I can't really tell you where it ranks, but it's a pretty big win for us."

"That was a huge two points for us," said Demitra. "We showed we can play hockey. We have so many good players. But finally we have a good goaltender."

While Halak was the headliner Thursday night, the physical contest between Ovechkin and Chara was a close second. They hammered each other left and right all night long.

"I love it," said Chara. "We always battle hard. That's what best players do, they battle hard against each other. We are good friends off the ice, but on the ice, we compete and we got after each other. That's the nature of this game, that's what the best players do."

Ovechkin was visibly upset after the game. Usually in moments like this, he delivers; but he was thwarted in his last two shootout attempts, which strangely enough continues to not be the best part of his game in the NHL.

"Well, the first time I wanted to go five-hole and I got it, but second one I tried to make a move and the ice wasn't that good," said Ovechkin. "It's pretty hard when you lose in a shootout."

He'll live to see another day in this tournament. Pity the Czechs because they face Ovechkin next.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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