Finland eliminated Russia from the Olympic hockey tournament on Wednesday, ruining Vladimir Putin's (and every other Russian's) hope of a gold on home soil. Finland's 3-1 win in the quarterfinal game dashed any dreams that this squad would restore the Soviet-era hockey glory that has evaded the country in recent years. Losing the opportunity to close your hometown games with a gold medal in the marquee Olympic event is a bitter pill to swallow.
Predictably, Russia is not taking the loss well.
Hockey is a simple game: you carry the puck with your stick, you pass the puck, you shoot the puck. The goal is to put the puck, a small piece of vulcanized rubber, inside a large metal gate outfitted with a twine net. If you can't do that, you won't win.
Russia scored plenty of goals in the medal round, but too few of them came from their best players. When you only score one goal in a deciding loss to Finland, a country not generally thought to be a hockey super power, the fault will lie with your star players.
They are supposed to score the most goals. Evengi Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin, two of the top forwards in the NHL, driving forces behind the NHL's participation in the Sochi games, were held to one goal apiece for the entire tournament. The drought was hard to miss, and Russia's head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov singled out Ovechkin after the game. "I can not explain" how Ovechkin did not score more, Bilyaletdinov told reporters. Normally Ovechkin does not need to hold his stick to score with ease so his absense from the box score was especially glaring.
Ovechkin, it should be mentioned, was one of the few players to answer questions from media after the game. He was accountable. He did that part of his job, at least. "It sucks. What else can I say?" Ovy told reporters after the game. The explanation for Russia's unceremonious exit is that simple, because hockey is a simple game.
Finland now plays Sweden, one of its biggest rivals, in the semifinals, a rematch of the 2006 Olympic gold medal game. Canada and the U.S. play their quarterfinal matches, against Latvia and the Czech Republic, respectively, at 12:00 p.m. ET Wednesday. They will meet in the next round if they both advance. The next two days are going to be impossibly fun / hell.