Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nash Takes Vancouver, Game 5

"Oh my." - Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy, "Bull Durham"


After the overly dramatic quote to summarize Game 3, I thought an equally lighthearted quote summarized the Canadian dismantling of The Fightin' Ovechkins in Game 5.  Team Canada won, 7-3, and in the process set themselves up for a semifinal round match against Team Slovakia for the right to go to the Gold Medal Game.

(That's right, everyone, the Columbus Blue Jackets are guaranteed to have a medal winner out of these Olympics as Canada has Rick Nash and Slovakia has -- wait for it -- Milan Jurcina!  With both teams on one side of the tournament bracket, the CBJ can do no worse than a Silver Medal. But I digress...)

Our Columbus Blue Jackets captain got shuffled in the lineup again, this time placed with Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards.  This was a starting lineup change, though, as coach Mike Babcock moved Rick Nash to a Sidney Crosby line in the third - or maybe that was a sloppy line change.  No matter.

Last night, Nash was an integral component of Babcock's plan to throw a wrench in the well-oiled Russian scoring machine.  As NHL.com suggests:
Mike Babcock figured the best way to counter against Alex Ovechkin's power and speed was to put a forward and a defenseman on him who have plenty of both.

Rick Nash and Shea Weber are each 6-foot-4 and combine to weigh 450 pounds.

Yup, they'll do.
Even though Canada was considered the road team by seeding and was not afforded the final change, Babcock still managed to get Nash and Weber to play the right side against Ovechkin just about every time he was on the ice. They shut him down while also getting a goal apiece in Canada's 7-3 win over Russia.

Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards and Scott Niedermayer rounded out the five-man unit that held Russia's top line of Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin off the scoreboard. Malkin is the only one who had a point and the trio combined for nine shots and a minus-6 rating.

And so Nash, along with his wrecking crew partners, took down the Russians in a way that no one could have conceived at the beginning of this Olympic tournament.  It brings up an aspect of the captain's game, something that slipped my mind but clearly didn't pass by Babcock (or perhaps his assistant, Ken Hitchcock): Rick Nash knows how to play defense.  Coming in the form of a giant power forward, Nash's two-way game is something that I'm guessing every team in the tournament would get downright Pavlovian over.  So many Olympic teams are simply a collection of high scoring all-stars that look to shoot rather than shut an opponent down.  Nash can do either, and do either pretty well.  Ask Alexander Ovechkin.
The game plan wasn't to just fend Ovechkin off; it was to stuff his game right back in his face by getting the puck deep and forechecking hard. Toews, Richards and Nash were able to do that and with the comfort and Weber and Niedermayer behind them, they forced Ovechkin, Malkin and Semin to play out of their element.


"Those guys don't want to play defense," Nash said, "so as long as we can keep it in their end, that was our plan."
It wasn't just shutting down Ovechkin, either.  Nash was flying all over the place, going as far as to pound his own NHL teammate.  Jeff Little Tweeted this one:
[CBJ GM Scott] Howson just had a heart attack -- Nash hitting [CBJ Defenseman Fedor] Tyutin
Oh yeah, he scored another goal, too - a beautiful breakaway on a feed from Towes.  (NBC won't let me embed their video, so click here and go to 1:07 to see the play.)  The third goal of the game probably was a major contributor in breaking the Russians' back.  (Just 5 more goals, and I win the DBJ Rick Nash Olympic Goal Scoring Contest...hee hee.)

All in all, a very satisfying night for Rick Nash and Team Canada.  They get a night off to rest up, then into the semifinal round against Team Slovakia.

Oh - if you've never seen the "Bull Durham" line of which I reference, here it is.  I know it's baseball, but it's still damned good theater and a lighthearted wrapup to what proved to be a lighthearted hockey game:


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