“It’s a real shame that two such big teams had to meet at the quarter-final stage,” said Vyacheslav Bykov at the post-game press conference. “They both deserve to progress further, but sadly one of them had to go home early.”
Bykov shook the hand of his counterpart Ken Hitchcock, although the latter lost his cool a little when asked about “the curse of Ilya Kovalchuk” and he reminded all that the Canadians had been far from cursed back in Vancouver. But this passed unnoticed. Russia had outplayed Canada to march into the semi-final.
Alexei Kaygorodov, scorer of Russia’ first goal, a superb solo effort, was beaming with happiness. “I’m really glad I scored,” said the attacker, “but to be honest, right now I can’t remember any of what happened. It’s all forgotten. But the pleasure I take from this victory is just huge.”
Bykov, however, remembered everything. “Everyone at the time was shouting at Kaygorodov to just shoot,” laughed the coach, “but he kept going to the end and then scored. What a great guy. Remember, before this world championship everyone criticized our choice of center, asking why we would select this floor-polisher. And he’s had the last laugh.”
Another of the game’s heroes, Konstantin Barulin, had seemingly left all his emotion on the ice. “It was tough, of course,” he spoke about the game calmly, as if it had all happened years ago. “In the final ten minutes we all realized that our opponents were losing their cool, something wasn’t going right for them. I didn’t have to work too hard in the first two periods. I don’t know what time I’ll get to sleep – about 4 o'clock, I hope.”
The rest of the players were not so cool. Ilya Nikulin recalled the episode when the referees took an age to study replays of his shot to see if it had crossed the goal line. “But we weren’t especially worried whether or not they allowed it,” said the defenseman, “it wasn’t crucial. Whichever way it went we were going to continue playing our own hockey.”
Bykov also reflected on that episode. “I’ll tell you that on the bench we’d already made up our minds to keep playing our own game, regardless of what the officials would decide. The guys listened and worked right to the end.”
Kovalchuk, who needed stitches after suffering a gashed lip at the very start of the game, did not consider it a heroic act to have played on. “The medics stopped the flow of blood, thank you,” he said. “As for the Canadians, we’re lucky that the arena in Kosice, where they’d played their group stage games, is quite cool, whereas here in Bratislava it’s hot. The North American guys just wilted. Were we playing for the coaches today? Look, we’re all the one team, and that’s what we play for.”
Facing Russia in the semi-final will be Finland, who had little trouble seeing off the Norwegians. The game will be on Friday the 13th of May, so the players will have practically no time to recuperate. And the Finns finished their quarter-final a little earlier than the Russians.
Vyacheslav Bykov decided to say nothing in answer to his critics, although he had every justification. “I congratulate everyone on the victory,” he said, “and have no other words to say. But I can tell you all we are a united collective.”
Alexei Shevchenko, special to khl.ru