'Eat me', says coach as Russia suffer hockey horror show
Russia's Alexei Yemelin (R) lays on the ice during the Men's Ice Hockey Quarterfinals Finland vs Russia at the Bolshoy Ice Dome during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 19, 2014 - by Alexander Nemenov
Finland's 3-1 victory in the quarter-finals Wednesday has become the second-straight Olympic nightmare for Russian hockey.
Four years ago in Vancouver they were crushed by the Canadians 7-3 and this time around the enormous expectations of winning gold on home ice proved to be too much.
Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov knows the reaction from the Russian media and fans to another Olympic embarrassment will be swift and scathing.
"Well, eat me now. You'll eat me and I'll be gone," said Bilyaletdinov. "But I will keep living."
Russia have not claimed a hockey gold medal since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. That team won the Olympic title in 1992 in Albertville when they played as the Community of Independent States (CIS).
Their second straight quarter-final exit from the Winter Games once again raises questions about the team's cohesion and ability to play together rather than individual stars.
"The problem was that we wanted to win the game by one person, not by a team," said defenceman Anton Belov. "We didn't make passes. That's the result we got."
Finnish star Teemu Selanne said the Russians were a beaten bunch and he could see it in their eyes late in the game.
"They were feeling the pressure," said Selanne, who is the all-time leading scorer in the Winter Olympics. "They had more to lose than us. They were getting frustrated.
"That is tough to see. Believe me I have been in that position too. To be honest I am little bit sad for them.
"They had a big dream to win the gold medal and then it doesn't work," said the 43-year-old Selanne.
- 'They had more to lose than us' -
Russian TV didn't hold back in its immediate post-match hyperbole.
"Dear friends, life has not come to an end. But this is a severe and annoying defeat," said the commentator on state television Channel One.
"We are all crying and we are crying with you too. We are hoping for revenge. Maybe one day there will be revenge. But maybe not with this team.”
Ilya Kovalchuk's over-the-top celebration in the first period after the opening goal of the game underlined Russia's struggles to come together as a team in major international tournaments.
Kovalchuk took a pass from Pavel Datsyuk and hammered a slap shot past Finnish goaltender Tuuka Rask. As linemate Alex Ovechkin skated over to hug him, Kovalchuk turned away from Ovechkin and jumped up and down a few times as he skated over to the open side of the ice by himself.
Following his goal, Kovalchuk failed to provide much offence and committed several bad turnovers which led to Finnish scoring chances.
Russia's other big stars, like Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, also struggled to score all tournament long despite logging more ice time and taking the majority of shots for their team.
Russia also fizzled out on the power play even though they had one of the more explosive units that included Malkin, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk and Datsyuk. Heading into Wednesday's game they were just two-for-16 on the powerplay.
Datsyuk was the best forward in the tournament for the Russians. The Detroit Red Wing all-star was heartbroken to lose this way in another Olympics.
"I can't explain my disappointment," Datsyuk said immediately after the final buzzer. "Inside I am just empty. We didn't score enough. I have to sit down and think about it."
This was the fifth game in six days for the Russians who beat Norway 4-0 on Tuesday, getting all their goals from Kontinental Hockey League players while their National Hockey League stars fired blanks.
The Finns' first two goals Wednesday came off errors by slowfooted defencemen, making some wonder if the best players were picked for this team. The biggest omission from the roster was veteran defenceman Sergei Gonchar.
"I don't see any other players out there. The best players were on the team," Bilyaletdinov said.