Sochi hockey notebook: Maatta outlasts Malkin
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SOCHI, Russia — The Russian headlines will blare the bad news of their beloved hockey team being bumped out of the Olympics by Finland, 3-1, in the quarterfinal round Wednesday, but few are likely to mention the unassuming 19-year-old Finn who might have loomed largest.
Olli Maatta logged a team-high 19:54 of ice time, including 8:58 of the third period and all of the final 52 seconds. Within the latter, he neatly stripped Russia's Alexander Ovechkin of the puck for a key clear.
Highlight reel stuff it wasn't, but it kept adding to a growing list of reasons so many believe Maatta's ceiling is limitless.
Characteristically, Maatta spoke only of the team afterward: “We played as a team. We defended as a team pretty well. We played a pretty complete game. There were a couple of shifts where we were a little shaky. But we didn't get nervous. We just stayed calm and tried to play our game.”
Asked about Evgeni Malkin being on the losing side: “I'm happy for our team and for us. I feel for him, too.”
Malkin silent again
Malkin and equally famous linemate Ovechkin went without a point in their final four games, something that's sure to haunt them after both labeled this the most important international tournament of their careers.
Malkin had a goal and two assists in the opening game against Slovenia, and that was it. Some of that could be pinned on a lack of chemistry with Ovechkin and some on the Russians inexplicably leaving him off the top power play. But it still was another poor result in a big-game setting.
As had been the case throughout the tournament, Malkin passed the North American reporters in the media zone without speaking.
Television replays made clear Malkin had to remind Russia's coach, Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, to pull the goalie late in the third.
That might explain why Russian reporters, in their inimitable way, were lambasting Bilyaletdinov in the postgame news conference with questions such as: “How guilty are you feeling?” “Is it a catastrophe” “Will you stay to watch the rest of the Games?”
To that last one, Bilyaletdinov replied: “No. I'd rather leave.”
Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, reunited on Canada's top line, again went scoreless in a 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Latvia. Crosby's best chance was a first-period breakaway that was thwarted. Kunitz immediately faced an open net but fired the rebound off the crossbar.
Crosby recorded one shot, Kunitz two.
It's been that kind of tournament, not just for those two but the entire Canadian team, which is struggling on offense.
Crosby was asked what the reaction might have been in his native Nova Scotia to Canada and Latvia entering the elimination game tied in the third.
“I'm sure it was tense,” he said. “People would have been yelling at their TVs.”
Dan Bylsma stuck by his venerable Brooks Orpik-Paul Martin pairing in the United States' 5-2 quarterfinal victory over the Czech Republic. Neither had a point.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.
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