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February 20, 2014

Russia knocked out of Olympic hockey by Finns

Siochi, Russia — The Russians dutifully shook the Finns’ hands and then skated to the center of a rink built to showcase their return to Olympic hockey dominance. When they raised their sticks in a mournful salute, they got more whistles than cheers from their devastated fans.

Alex Ovechkin, captain Pavel Datsyuk and their teammates had nursed dreams about this week for several years — all their lives, really.

They were all dashed in 60 frustrating minutes against Finland.

Russia crashed out of the Olympics in the quarterfinals Wednesday with a 3-1 loss, extending a historic hockey nation’s gold-medal drought past 22 years and putting an enormous damper on the final days of the Sochi Games.

“Inside, I’m absolutely empty,” Datsyuk said through a translator.

Teemu Selanne scored an early goal and Tuukka Rask made 37 saves as Finland crushed the Russians’ plans to win hockey gold in front of their own fans for the first time. Russian and Soviet teams have won eight gold medals in hockey, but none since the Unified Team’s victory in 1992.

Ovechkin, Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin all hailed Russia’s home Olympics as the most important tournament of their careers, and President Vladimir Putin led the chorus of Russians hoping for another golden moment in Sochi. They’ll likely have only bitter memories after losses to the United States and Finland, which left Russia out of the medals entirely for the third straight games.

“I can only apologize to the fans for the results,” Russia coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said. “It was unfortunate for us. Expectations were quite different. I can only say words of apology.”

Despite its roster of high-priced offensive stars, Russia couldn’t score in the final 52 minutes after Ilya Kovalchuk’s early power-play goal. Russia pressed relentlessly and fruitlessly in the third period, but Rask stopped each of their 15 shots.

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