Russia advances to face Finland in the Quarterfinals of the 2014 Sochi Olympics after a 4-0 win over Norway on Tuesday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, thanks to a big performance by Alex Radulov and an easy shutout by Sergei Bobrovsky in net.
After what was certainly an underwhelming and concerning performance in the shootout win over Slovakia on Sunday, Russia was expected to come out fired up to dominate a Norway team that would be without its lone NHL player. Yet the Russians once again came out flat and uncertain, managing just seven shots in a scoreless first period that continued a troubling goal-scoring drought for the high-powered roster.
Frustration on the Russian bench led to too many failed individual efforts and not enough team play and crisp passing, allowing a determined Norway team to focus defensively and not allow second and third chances around Lars Haugen in goal. The power play, which was the subject of intense focus in practice on Monday, created zero shots on goal in the first period and continued Russia's struggles with the man-advantage so far in Sochi.
Ironically, it was a powerful individual effort that seemingly woke Russia from their trance/ Radulov, who had drawn the ire of the Russian coaches and media after a bad game against the United States, came alive in the second period and created several chances thanks to several strong plays with the puck,finally puttting Russia on the board when a prayer of backhand from the goalline found its way past Haugen to give the host country a 1-0 lead. It was the first goal in exactly 100 minutes for Russia, going back three games.
Radulov's goal led to better even strength play for Russia, who took over control of the game in the second period and finally started to find some synergy on the power play, while still coming up empty with the man advantage. Russia would score late in the frame off another strong individual effort from Radulov, with Ilya Kovalchuk knocking in a rebound for the 2-0 lead. Radulov was electric in the second period, creating several prime chances with powerful and skilled plays with the puck along the boards and in open ice.
The big performance was capped with an empty-net goal with just over a minute remaining, as Radulov finished with two goals and an assist in the game. Vladimir Tarashenko would effectively put the game away, scoring in the final minute as Norway's final push proved fruitless.
18-year old Valeri Nichushkin, a rookie with the Dallas Stars and drafted No. 10 overall in 2013, saw just 3:16 of ice time in the game and never left the bench in the second and third period. Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov leaned heavily on the top two lines after the disappointing first period, and had made it known prior to the Olympics he was skeptical of Nichushkin's selection to the team.
Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin were once again held scoreless as the high-powered Russians once again struggled to put up the big numbers many expected heading into the Olympics. Sergei Bobrovsky finished perfect on all 20 shots faced in the game, while Norway's Lars Haugen stopped 26 of 28 shots in the game.
The questions will now turn to whether Russia can continue to overcome slow starts and underwhelming offensive performances; the final score against Norway does not accurately portray how closely Norway played the home country in an elimination game. Russia will now face Team Finland, who has struggled at times defensively in the tournament, on Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. ET.