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Russia feasts on Swiss cheese

Kovalchuk suspended as big win sends Russia to semis versus Finns

Quebec City Quebec Canada
Alexander Semin and his Russian team-mates were flying through the holey Swiss defence. Photo: IIHF/HHoF/Matthew Manor

QUEBEC CITY – Talk about scoring efficiency. Russia scored on three of its first four shots on goal in a 6-0 quarter-final rout of Switzerland, and two were Swiss own goals with a strong whiff of fromage.

The Russians now meet Finland in Friday’s first semi-final at the Colisée. It’s a rematch of last year’s semis, where the Finns ousted Russia with a 2-1 OT win, the first time the hosts had ever lost a World Championship game in Moscow.

Ilya Kovalchuk, who was assessed his second game misconduct of the tournament for a dirty hit on Switzerland’s Julien Vauclair, will be suspended for the game against Finland. He was previously ejected for fighting Sweden’s Anton Stralman on May 10.

Russian coach Slava Bykov said that from the replays he’d seen, he didn’t think Kovalchuk lifted his arm on the hit, but perhaps took a few extra steps. “The plan is for us to play physically, but we’re not out there to hurt people,” Bykov said.

“It looked like Kovalchuk had been hit hard and clean by one of our players prior to the incident,” said Swiss coach Ralph Krueger, who added that Vauclair was getting an ultrasound for potential internal injuries, “somewhere in the lower two-thirds of the body.”

Russia is gunning for its third medal in the last four years and its first gold since 1993.

Maxim Afinogenov paced the Russian attack with two goals, and Alexander Semin, Danis Zaripov, Sergei Fedorov, and Alexander Ovechkin added singles. Zaripov, Denis Grebeshkov, and Konstantin Korneyev each registered a pair of assists.

It was the first-ever meeting between these teams in playoff round action, and it wasn’t half as close as Russia’s 5-3 win in the Qualifying Round on Monday.

Evgeni Nabokov recorded 22 saves for the shutout, while Martin Gerber and Jonas Hiller split duties between the Swiss pipes, facing 30 shots.

“The Finns have a great team, and it’s going to be a tough task for us [on Friday],” said Nabokov. “They’re more skilled than the Swiss and more physical. They have a great power play and great goaltending.”

From the get-go, as swiftly as bullets from an AK-47, the Russians exposed cheese-like holes in the Swiss defence.

It took just 1:46 for Semin to get Russia on the board, racing into the zone, setting up along the boards and wristing a screened shot that slid through Gerber’s five-hole.

Less than a minute later, Afinogenov made a spectacular rush down right wing, cut around the defence in front of the net, and managed to stuff the puck through Gerber, with a little help from the hand of Swiss defender Raphael Diaz, for a 2-0 lead.

At 6:23, the Swiss caught the worst possible break when Philippe Furrer got the puck off a faceoff in his own end while killing a penalty, and tried to clear it around the boards, but instead slammed it into his own net past Gerber. Zaripov was credited with the goal.

“Everybody knew that we needed to have a tight game for a long time to make this a game and it didn’t happen,” said Krueger. “A crazy set of circumstances put us in a hole that we couldn’t get out of.”

To compound Switzerland’s problems, Nabokov was in fine form. A minute later, Julien Sprunger and Thibaut Monnet hooked up on a near 2-on-0 rush, and Nabokov wildly sprawled to foil Sprunger on the doorstep. He next made a great glove grab off a high Beat Forster power play drive.

As the Russian high-speed ballet picked up late in the first period, chants of “Rossiya!” echoed through the arena, almost as if this was Moscow in 2007.

At 21:22, Fedorov stretched Russia’s lead to 4-0 when he slipped over the blueline and hammered a slapshot over Gerber’s glove from the top of the faceoff circle. It looked like a highlight from his 56-goal, Hart Trophy season of 1994.

At 26:37, Afinogenov added his second of the game after the puck came to him in the faceoff circle left of Gerber and he zinged it under the crossbar. Coach Bykov was seen high-fiving with his players on the bench. Krueger was in a less upbeat mood, as he pulled Gerber in favour of Jonas Hiller 13 seconds after the goal.

Julien Sprunger got hit in the face with the puck in front of Nabokov’s net with under four minutes to play in the second period, in the midst of some brief sustained Swiss pressure, and had to be escorted off the ice by the trainer.

Ovechkin made it 6-0 at 38:07. Konstantin Korneyev gave the NHL scoring champion a magnificent breakaway pass, from the Russian goal line to the Swiss blueline, and Ovechkin made no mistake, deking Hiller and sliding the puck through the goalie’s legs for his team-best sixth tally.

“I want to congratulate Slava because we all know they have a talented team, but I’ve never seen them play so well as a group,” said Krueger.

Only one major incident marked the final period. Kovalchuk, who has failed to score a goal in this tournament, compounded his ignominy by taking a five-minute major and game misconduct for charging on Julien Vauclair in the Russian end. The Swiss defenceman lay immobile on the ice for several minutes while paramedics were summoned with a stretcher, but Vauclair eventually managed to skate off to the dressing room.

Switzerland’s three best players of the tournament were honoured afterwards: Martin Gerber, Beat Forster, and Andres Ambuhl.

Now after yet another top-eight finish, Switzerland sets its sights on hosting the 2009 IIHF World Championship in Berne and Zurich-Kloten.

“I think that’s nice for us,” said Swiss forward Thibaut Monnet. “The people in the Swiss stadiums are crazy for us. That’s good for us as players. It can only help us.”
On a purely coincidental but lamentable side note, Gerber hails from the town of Langnau in the region of Emmental, where the yellow, hard cheese with holes widely known as “Swiss cheese” originated.


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