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Russia Crushes Latvia in Men's Hockey Opener

APAlexander Ovechkin (8) chasing the puck against Latvia in the first period of a preliminary round men's ice hockey game at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Feb. 16.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia  — Alex Ovechkin and Danis Zaripov scored two goals apiece as Russian routed Latvia 8-2 Tuesday to cap the opening day of the men's Olympic hockey tournament.

The Latvians avoided a shutout when Herberts Vasiljevs scored in the opening seconds of the final period. The Russians responded with two goals — including Zaripov's second — in less than a minute.

"We relaxed and started playing better," two-time reigning NHL MVP Ovechkin said in an interview that was translated for The Associated Press. "We just let go and played a bit."

Russia's Yevgeny Nabokov made 18 saves, and Edgars Masalskis stopped 37 shots for Latvia.

Russians is a serious contender to win Olympic gold for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Soviets won seven of nine Olympics, losing only to the United States in 1960 and 1980,  and the Unified Team of former Soviet republics was atop the medal podium again in 1992.

This Russian team has some of the NHL's top talent and is also loaded with many players from the country's own KHL, presenting a legitimate threat to Canada's hopes of winning the gold on home ice.

Russia won silver four years ago in Turin, beating Latvia 9-2 in that tournament. In Tuesday's game, the Russians committed too many penalties and were shaky on the power play, but they got away with it against the Latvians, who have won just two of 13 games in Olympic play.

"It was important that all players had their time to play so that they could warm up for the tournament," Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov said through a translator. "We allowed all the lines to play the power play."

Latvia has just two players on its roster from the NHL: Oskars Bartulis of the Philadelphia Flyers and Karlis Skrastins of the Dallas Stars. Sixteen of its 23 players come from Dinamo Riga of the KHL.

Unlike the powerhouse Canadians, who got off to a slow start before rolling past Norway 8-0, Russia struck quick.

Zaripov scored 2:38 into the game off a pass from Fedorov. Alexander Radulov scored midway through the first period, with the 40-year-old Fedorov again supplying the pass.

"I was nervous before the game," Fedorov said. "I still got some legs left."

After Russia's KHL standouts started the scoring barrage, the NHL's best got going.

Ovechkin scored his first goal in the final minute of the first period, and Yevgeny Malkin made it 4-0 late in the second on a power-play goal, stunting some confidence the scrappy Latvians seemed to be building after denying the Russians the first five times they had an extra skater.

Latvia's boisterous drum-banging, flag-waving fans — one of whom entertained the crowd by dancing in the aisles — erupted 33 seconds into the third period when Vasiljevs wheeled between the circles and got a shot past Nabokov.

But then they were silenced by Russian's superior talent that combined to score three goals in a little more than 2 minutes, capped by Ilya Kovalchuk's goal that made it 7-1.

See also:

U.S. Wins Olympic Hockey Duel Against Russia

More Than Three Decades After 'Miracle on Ice', U.S.-Russia Hockey Rivalry Cools

Olympic Hockey Win for Russia, Shurik the Rat Predicts

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