The Russian Olympic hockey team had high hopes before facing Finland in the quarterfinals on Feb. 19. Reaching the Olympic medal round was the least the Russians could do in front of their home fans, who were dreaming of gold ever since Sochi was awarded the 2014 Winter Games. However, those dreams died hard and decisively, as the Fins shattered a country right in front of its eyes with a 3-1 triumph.
Finland dominated right after Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk tallied the first goal of the day. Just 87 seconds later, Juhamatti Aaltonen evened things up and set the true tone of the game. Once Finland went ahead late in the first on a strike from its most iconic player, Teemu Selanne, the Russians played catch up the rest of the way.
Russia had its chances, yet Finland/Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask stopped almost all of them with 37 saves. Despite having a roster led by Alex Oveckin and Evgeni Malkin, the Russians' offense never got clicking -- like it didn't for much of the Olympics. As such, it will now have to sit out the rest of the games, while Finland, Sweden and arch-rivals Canada and the U.S. battle for the gold on Russian soil.
If anything, Finland's upset should send an extra message to the Americans, before they try to survive getting upset themselves by the Czech Republic this afternoon. As it turned out, the U.S.'s shootout win over the Russians on Feb. 15 meant nothing at all, although it did keep America from facing Finland in the quarters itself.
The U.S. could still face Finland in the gold medal game anyway, which is still a long way off. Finland is a step closer at the moment, however, as it already has a semifinal date set up with Sweden on Feb. 21. If there are any Russian fans left in the stands by then, they may root for Sweden by default.
Russia and Canada had the most pressure to win gold at the Olympics, yet even Canada didn't have as much on the line as the Russians did. Is this just an isolated case of the host nation crumbling, or will more projected hockey favorites fall early as the week goes on?
The Americans and Canada will try to stop the upset trend in its tracks, as they face the Czechs and Latvia respectively at noon est.