Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ice Hockey: USA steal show on Super Sunday winter olympic

Vancouver (AFP) - The United States broke Canadian hearts on Sunday with a 5-3 Olympic Games hockey victory which condemned the hosts, who started out as gold medal favourites, to a perilous future in the tournament.

The US, who lost the gold medal game at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics to their North American neighbours, shocked Canada to finish on top of Group A with nine points and a place in the quarter-finals.

The Russians also triumphed 4-2 Sunday in Group B over the Czech Republic who dashed their gold medals hopes at the 1998 Nagano Games while Sweden continued their mastery over Finland, winning 3-0 in a repeat of the gold medal game four years ago in Turin and topped Group C.

The USA, like the other three winners Sunday, received a bye into the tournament quarter-finals. Finland was the only team that didn't win but still got a bye because of their 2-1 record.

Ryan Miller made 42 saves and Brian Rafalski scored two goals as the US stunned host Canada for their first win over their neighbours in an Olympic clash in 50 years.

Forward Jamie Langenbrunner scored the winner in the second period for the Americans who are a perfect 3-0 having beaten Switzerland, Norway and now Canada.

"It was one of the biggest games I've ever played in," Miller said. "Hopefully it provides the confidence we need moving forward."

Canada now has to play in the eight-team qualifying round on Tuesday.

They will play Germany and if they win they will face mighty Russia in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

"We had chances in the game, some hard chances. In the third period we had a lot of powerplays but we just ran out of time," said Canadian superstar Sidney Crosby of the loss to the Americans.

"Ryan Miller was really solid and made some big saves. Sometimes you run into a hot goalie but we had some bad luck sometimes."

Dany Heatley and Eric Staal scored for Canada who outshot the US 45-23.

"I hate to say it but I think we just need to play more games," Canada's goalie Martin Brodeur said. "There's things we need to work on, and hopefully that extra game will give us just that."

Evgeni Malkin scored two goals and Alex Ovechkin had two assists and a momentum-changing hit as Russia beat the Czechs.

Ovechkin had a bone-crushing hit on Czech star Jaromir Jagr early in the third that forced a turnover at centre ice and helped set up Malkin's second goal.

"It is just a moment," Ovechkin said. "If I have a chance to hit somebody it does not matter who it is. We played simple and we didn't make mistakes in the neutral zone."

Viktor Kozlov scored a second period goal and Pavel Datsyuk added an empty net goal for Russia who handed the Czechs their first loss of the tournament.

"Definitely the hit by Ovechkin turned the game around," Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk said.

Forward Malkin opened the scoring for Russia on the powerplay by sneaking a shot between the left arm and blocker of Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun.

Malkin finished off a pretty passing play with Alexander Semin in the third for his second goal to make it 3-1.

But almost as important was the smashing hit by Ovechkin on Jagr that forced a turnover at centre ice to start the play.

Jagr was skating through the neutral zone with the puck when he ran head on into Ovechkin and lost the puck.

Louis Eriksson scored two power-play goals and defending champion Sweden earned a bye in the Vancouver Winter Olympic hockey quarter-finals with a 3-0 victory over Finland on Sunday.

The Swedes joined Russia and the United States as group winners who will not have to play again until Wednesday, each only three triumphs from a gold medal.

Despite the defeat, Finland also booked a place in the final eight as the top second-place team in round-robin group play, edging the Czech Republic on goal difference.

The outcome set final pairings for the knockout playoff rounds that begin Tuesday, when Canada will face Germany for the right to face fellow pre-tournament favorite Russia in a Wednesday quarter-final between powerhouse lineups.

Also on Tuesday, Slovakia will play Norway for the chance to face Sweden in the quarter-finals, Belarus will meet Switzerland for the right to meet the Americans and the Czechs will play Latvia for a last-eight date with Finland.

Swedes blank Finns but both reach last eight
Eriksson opened the scoring 6:41 into the game when the Swedes enjoyed a two-man advantage thanks to Finland penalties.

Nicklas Backstrom, a National Hockey League teammate of Russian star Alex Ovechkin on the Washington Capitals, ripped a wrist shot into the top far corner of the goal to boost Sweden's edge 4:19 into the second period.

Eriksson struck again with 1:52 remaining in the second, skating around sprawled Finnish goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff and sliding the puck into the far corner of the open goal to give the Swedes their final goal.

Finland frustration boiled over when Joni Pitkanen received a five-minute penalty and game misconduct for a hit to the head on Sweden's Patric Hornqvist, who was taken to the locker room.

The Finns had outscored foes 10-1 in their first two games.