The host Russians will look to advance through to the final four in the men’s Olympic Hockey tournament today, but they face no small task against Finland.
The quarter-final game is scheduled to start at 12:30 GMT.
In the UK, the game airs live on BBC 2/BBC 2 HD, while live coverage is available online with Ladbrokes.
Get Russia vs. Finland coverage here:
The Finns are coming off an impressive round robin stage, and will be well rested, having received a bye in the first round of the knockout stage of the tournament.
The home team cruised by the lowly Norwegians, winning 4-0 in convincing fashion en route to another Quarterfinal appearance. Forward Alexander Radulov had two goals and an assist in the contest, and looks to be an excellent secondary scoring option in light of the struggles of stars Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.
Ovechkin was expected to use the tournament to re-assert himself as the best player in the world. At home, in front of a partistan crowd, the hope was that he would elevate his game to an elite level, and provide the Russians the game-breaking offensive presence they needed. Instead, with just 1 goal in four tournament games, Ovechkin is proving to be a massive disappointment. What’s more, while forwards like Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and now Radulov are producing on the offensive end, they are also starting to eclipse Ovechkin in zone starts and offensive ice time, a sure sign that the coaching staff recognizes their star’s struggles.
It appears as though the Russians are going with Columbus Blue Jackets starter Sergei Bobrovsky as their man from here on out, as he was in net for Tuesday’s round of 12-contest. The shutout may not have been the best tell of his skill level, considering it came against a pop-gun Norwegian offense, but it is still indicative that his presence is preferred going forward. Semyon Varlamov provides an intriguing back-up option if the situation necessitates, but that is likely all he is at the moment.
The Finns were an overtime winner away from avoiding this match-up with Russia, and so they are likely ruing their inability to close out Canada on Sunday. A 2-1 overtime loss still guaranteed them a bye, but virtually guaranteed that they would line up against the host Russians in the quarterfinals.
With arguably their top 4 centers (Mikko Koivu, Saku Koivu, Valtteri Filppula, Aleksander Barkov) all out of the tournament with injuries, the Finns have resorted to a lock-down defensive system, and reliance upon goaltending. This is definitely a case of playing to one’s strengths, as the Finns starter is Boston Bruins man Tuukka Rask, and he has been stellar in his appearances thusfar. Still, a dearth of scoring could represent a serious problem going forward, particularly against a strong and deep Russian team on Wednesday.
As such, the Finns will rely on an aging but potent combination of Olli & Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu on their first line to contribute offense. Ruutu had their lone goal on Sunday and, though it is clearly not an offense that can face down the potent Russian contingent, it is one that has the experience to provide the goals when necessary. The Russians would be smart not to underestimate the Finns tendency to goalscoring-by-committee.
So what of it? The Russians are the definite favorite here, if not for current run of form, then for home ice advantage. There is expected to be an electric atmosphere at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, and the home team will be looking to get past the Quarterfinal round for the first time since 2006. Their Olympics ended in this round in 2010, spectacularly too, against Canada.
The Finns represent no small challenge, though; just ask Canada. What they lack in offensive depth, they make up for in systems play and international experience. Veterans like the Jokinens and captain Teemu Selanne represent the old guard of Finnish hockey, one that will likely ride off into the sunset after Sochi.
Still, it’s hard to imagine the Russians being anything but superior in this contest. They have yet to truly hit their stride in this tournament, and they are far too skilled a team to reckon that they won’t eventually do so. Wednesday represents an excellent opportunity for them to make a statement, against a team which many are considering a serious underdog threat.