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2010 Olympic Hockey: Canada vs. Russia Is More Than Just a Game

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 21: Alexander Ovechkin of Russia is seen after the ice hockey men's preliminary game between Russia and Czech Republic on day 10 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 21, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Matthew HoganAnalyst IFebruary 24, 2010

The Canadian and Russian men’s hockey teams were the top-two ranked teams by many critics heading into the Winter Olympics. But after the preliminary round, one thing is certain: Only one country will have the opportunity to take home a medal.

If Canada loses, expect a full-scale riot throughout the country that will have more than just Toronto Maple Leafs’ forward Mikhail Grabovski being arrested (the forward was arrested for a scuffle on the streets of Vancouver on Friday night.  Here’s a link for the rest of that story: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/news/story?id=4933141).

With an all-star lineup that boasts nine NHL captains—including Canada’s golden boy, Sidney Crosby—a loss to Russia tonight would place Canadian hockey at an all-time low.

If Russia losses, there will be a lot of finger-pointing. Expect a lot of those fingers to be aimed at Alexander Ovechkin.

Although he has just four points, which is second on the team behind Evgeni Malkin’s five, Ovie has arguably been Russia’s most consistent player thus far.

Scoring isn’t everything. Let’s not forget about Ovechkin’s big-time hit on former NHL-great, Jaromir Jagr, in Russia’s big 4-2 win against the Czech Republic on Sunday.

Despite what has happened to this point, if Ovechkin does not put up some major numbers against Canada tonight, he will have a lot to answer for.

Another great story line is not Ovechkin versus Crosby, but rather Malkin versus Crosby. While Ovechkin will surely be looking to avenge his loss to Crosby in the 2005 World Junior Championship, Malkin will be putting his Russian pride way ahead of his Pittsburgh pride in tonight’s battle.

As it is with every matchup, the goaltending in tonight’s game will more than likely be the ultimate decider.

Two premier NHL goalies, Roberto Luongo and Evgeni Nabakov, will literally be carrying their countries on their shoulders.

After Canada replaced arguably the best goalie of all time in Martin Brodeur with Luongo last night, the Canucks goalie and hometown favorite has a large task in front of him.

Stopping the Russian offense is no easy task, but neither is stopping the Canadian offense, as Ryan Miller proved on Sunday night.

While Miller ultimately got the win with an amazing effort in goal, he was tested time and time again, especially in the later stages of the game. Nabakov should be expecting a very similar test tonight against a Canadian team that has the pressure of the entire host country behind it.

There is only one thing to be certain of heading into tonight’s monumental matchup: A favorite will fall, and one country will be tarnished with failure.

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