Alexander Ovechkin looked devastated when he arrived at the press conference. “We were just unlucky,” he said, “everything seemed fine, but we were missing something. And there was that goal…”

Mikael Granlund’s strike certainly was stunning: the young Finnish forward emerged from behind Konstantin Barulin’s goal balancing the puck on his stick and deftly shoveled it high into the near top corner of the net. The video will already be all over the Internet, even though similar stunts are common at junior level. But to pull it off in the world championship semi-final!

“I have seen similar goals in my time,” Russia head coach Vyacheslav Bykov reflected, “back in Switzerland. But there’s one thing I can’t understand: why don’t our players, with all the class they have, pull off similar tricks, or do some clever dribbling? Are they afraid of something?”

Granlund’s goal was the game-changer. It caused something in the Russians to crack, and right to the end they never recovered their composure. Bykov himself admitted as much: “We didn’t have enough passion. Apart from that, I must admit our opponents looked the better team for the last two periods. I’m disappointed with every player without exception. But I didn’t see any indifference. That is, they all played with desire, it’s just that today it wasn’t enough.”

We should note that the Russians played this semi-final not even 24 hours after their hard-fought quarter-final win against Canada, a game which was not just physically exhausting but emotionally draining. The players themselves confessed that they had stayed awake long into the night.

“Now we’ll try to lift the guys in time for the bronze medal game,” sighed Bykov. “It won’t be easy, but we’ll try.”

Some hours before the game Russia called on the services of Denis Grebeshkov to shore up the defense, but decided not to call up Pavel Datsyuk. The coach explained it was because the Detroit center had needed injections to play his previous two games.

Nothing went right for Russia in power play either, in spite of the coaches trying out various combinations. It was illustrative that several of the players were also protesting at the refereeing, albeit half-heartedly, but they had no backing from the coach. “Three penalties for goalie interference – that’s totally justified, and I have no complaints about the officials,” was Bykov view. “That’s exactly how they punish you for fouls like that, and we warned the guys about it. And overall, the refereeing was conscientious throughout and I didn’t see any bias.”

He could say nothing, however, about Russia’s problems when playing with the man advantage: “I just don’t have the answer. I don’t know what to say. We’ve tried every permutation. The only thing left was to send on five defensemen. Nothing has paid off.”

Possibly, one of the problems may be that several of the players consider themselves leaders, and try to decide the game on their own. Bykov did not agree: “Our whole concept is to focus on team hockey, but all the same maybe some do feel that way. It would be a great shame if someone decided they’d try to grab all the glory.”

On Sunday in Bratislava the Russians will play the Czechs for the bronze medal in the early game, before Finland and Sweden do battle for the gold.

Alexei Shevchenko, Bratislava, special to

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