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Russia 4, Czech Republic 2

Ovechkin, Russians flatten Czech Republic

Alexander Ovechkin’s thunderous hit on Jaromir Jagr sparked the Russians to a win and berth in the quarterfinals. Alexander Ovechkin’s thunderous hit on Jaromir Jagr sparked the Russians to a win and berth in the quarterfinals. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)
By Ira Podell
Associated Press / February 22, 2010

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Alex Ovechkin flattened Jaromir Jagr with a visor-breaking, center-ice hit that powered Russia right into the Olympic hockey quarterfinals.

The open-ice smackdown by the NHL MVP was the spotlight moment of Russia’s 4-2 victory over the Czech Republic yesterday. Ovechkin also had two assists and Evgeni Malkin scored two goals as Russia bounced back from a disappointing shootout loss to Slovakia.

Ovechkin, playing on a new line with Capitals teammate Alexander Semin and Malkin, rocked Canada Hockey Place when he throttled Jagr.

Jagr, who a day earlier called Ovechkin the best player in the world, had circled with the puck before the Russian caught him high with his arm.

“This is the Olympics and he’ll get better for the next game,’’ Ovechkin said through an interpreter. “I was not the only one going for it. Every one of our players fought very strongly today to win.’’

The crunching hit came just before Semin found Malkin in the right circle for a goal that made it 3-1 at 1:49 of the third period.

“I made one turnover there and it cost us the game. I feel horrible,’’ Jagr said. “I didn’t see if it was an elbow or not. It doesn’t really matter. It wasn’t called. They got the puck, they scored.

“That heals, but the mistake doesn’t heal. I wish I had a concussion and just forget what happened, but I remember it.’’

In this rematch of the 1998 Olympic gold-medal game - won, 1-0, by the Czechs - Russia scored in every period to claim first place in Group B with 7 points.

Malkin gave Russia (2-0-1-0) a 1-0 lead in the first and made it a two-goal edge thanks to Ovechkin’s muscle.

“I think it’s a great moment of the Olympics Games,’’ Malkin said.

Viktor Kozlov also scored for Russia, and Pavel Datsyuk added an empty-netter off assists from Ovechkin and Malkin with 12.3 seconds remaining.

Tomas Plekanec and Milan Michalek had goals for the Czechs (2-0-0-1). Michalek converted Marek Zidlicky’s pass in front to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 5:09 left.

“We played a good game,’’ said Florida’s Tomas Vokoun, who made 27 saves. “We ended up losing. It’s a tournament and you have to shake it off pretty quickly if you want to go anywhere.’’

San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov stopped 23 shots in the win, but the talk was all about Ovechkin, who declined to speak in English following the game.

“The momentum was great,’’ defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. “Alex had a good read on the play and he read it well. He did a nice clean hit. It always gives you that momentum, and we scored pretty much right away.’’

The Czechs, who got the better of Russia four years ago in Turin, when they won bronze, will have to wait until today to find out if they will have to play in the qualification round. The three group winners and a wild card earn byes.

“We are going to the crunch time,’’ Vokoun said. “We didn’t want to play the extra game. But we just have to refocus. We still have as good a chance as anybody.’’

Kozlov, a longtime NHL forward now playing in Russia, took a bouncing pass from Alexander Radulov in the slot and slapped a shot behind his back that caught Vokoun as he was shifting left and slid under the goalie’s glove with 5:26 left in the second to make it 2-1.

The game was nearly tied again just more than a minute later when a close shot by Jagr bounced around the crease and was briefly covered by Nabokov. The whistle blew before the puck entered the net.

“The way we look at it, the referee disallowed the goal and that’s where it ends through us,’’ said Czech coach Vladimir Ruzicka, the former Bruin, through an interpreter.

Russia sustained a double hit when Radulov boarded Bruin David Krejci but drove the Czech forward into teammate Sergei Zinovyev, whose left leg was bent under him.

The teams traded power-play goals during a first period in which Russia held a 12-5 shots advantage.

Russia had more energy early, knowing it needed to win in regulation to win Group B.