TORONTO—Alex Ovechkin was a frustrated man for the first 59 minutes of Sunday’s World Cup opener against Sweden.
Russia’s captain had been to the penalty box twice. Open ice had been hard to find. Quality scoring chances were equally as scarce.
Then, in the span of a few seconds, the Capitals’ sniper almost singlehandedly willed Russia to overtime.
With 33 seconds remaining and the goalie pulled, Ovechkin scored a goal Nicklas Backstrom called a “typical Ovechkin goal” to pull Russia to withing one tally. Twenty-six seconds after that, Ovechkin was celebrating what he believed to be the game-tying goal.
Just one problem: the puck he gloved down at the side of the net did not touch his stick on its way past goalie Jacob Markstrom, and Sweden escaped with a 2-1 win on a afternoon they had controlled for long stretches.
The ruling on the ice had been no goal and video review supported the call.
“We saw from the bench that it touched his hand, so we weren’t too nervous,” Backstrom said. “At the same tim,e I feel like those kind of scenarios happen all the time when you’re down a goal.”
Ovechkin remained unconvinced.
“I thought I touched it,” he said. “To be honest with you I didn’t see the replay. But I feel the touch. I don’t know if it was the puck or the stick. But I definitely feel the touch on my hand [and] on my stick. It doesn’t matter right now. It’s over, so we have to forget about it and move forward.”
Indeed, with Team North America looming Monday night, Ovechkin and his teammates do not have any time to dwell on Russia’s first loss to Sweden since the 2004 World Championship. But they do have much to fix after Tre Kronor showed the other seven teams how to beat them.
“Obviously I think they don’t give us any room in the first two periods and we played their way,” Ovechkin said. “We just don’t have speed through the neutral zone. Or if we have speed, we don’t have support. So we’re trying to be one-on-one and we see it’s not going to work. I think [the] situation is going to be changing. You can see how we play in the third period. Obviously, we score only one goal in the last minute. But I think the chances was there.”
Asked about Sweden’s defensive structure, Ovechkin added: “They play this way. Sometimes you just have to fight through it and don’t go around—you have to go through it. It’s a learning process. The tournament is just beginning.”
Backstrom, meantime, was pleased by Sweden’s response to Sunday’s lopsided loss to Team Europe in the final pre-tournament game.
“As a team we played better defensively and kind of kept them on the outside, I felt like,” he said. “Even if they’re a talented team, I thought we kept them on the outside and we didn’t allow them too many scoring chances.”
Indeed, it proved to be the perfect game plan for containing Ovechkin and Russia’s skilled forwards, who mustered just a handful of quality chances against Markstrom, who started in place of an ill Henrik Lundqvist. Marsktrom stopped 27 shots.
“Marky was ready to step up, and he had a great game,” Backstrom said.
After an intense but scoreless first period, Sweden seized control midway through the second period on markers from Gabriel Landeskog and Victor Hedman, who were scored just 2:11 apart.
For the four Capitals in the game—Ovechkin, Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov—Sunday proved to be a mixed bag.
The good: Ovechkin’s determination in the final minute and Backstrom’s secondary assist on Landeskog’s power play goal. Orlov also had an active night, accumulating four shots on net, three blocked shots and two hits in 19:43.
The bad: Ovechkin’s penalties for embellishment and slashing, Backstrom’s hooking infraction and Orlov’s penalty for flipping the puck over the glass. Backstrom also had a rough day in the faceoff dot, winning only seven of 21 draws. Kuznetsov failed to register a shot on goal in 13:43.
One of Ovechkin’s four hits is also worth a mention. In the first period, he took a run at Backstrom along the end boards. Backstrom ducked the brunt of the hit, but Ovechkin also sent his Washington teammate into the net with a cross check after they tangled along the boards.
But it was Backtrom who got the last laugh.
“It’s alright,” he said. “I was just happy we won. It’s a maybe little bit different than normal. We all know he’s a big guy, too. He’s playing physical. But, yeah, it feels a lot better to win than lose.”
Backstrom added: “It’s a huge win, especially against a good team like Russia. The start is the key in small tournaments like this. We’re happy about it.”
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