Russia advanced to the semi-finals of the 2008 IIHF World Championships on Wednesday night with a 6-0 pounding of Switzerland, but still suffered a tremendous loss. As a result of being assessed his second game misconduct of the tournament, star winger Ilya Kovalchuk has been automatically suspended for Russia’s semi-final matchup against Finland Friday afternoon, per IIHF rules. Kovalchuk, known for his competitive play as well as his world-class offensive capabilities, all of which made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, was whistled for the misconduct after a hit on Switzerland’s Julien Vauclair. No. 71’s presence will be difficult to overcome for Russia against the tight-checking Finns, as Kovalchuk is a constant scoring threat of whom the opposition must always be aware and creates ample space for his teammates. Kovalchuk is currently tied for the team-lead with 6 assists.
The Russian attack struck early and often against the porous Swiss, scoring goals on three of their first four shots against Swiss netminder Martin Gerber. Maxim Afinogenov paced Russia with two goals in only 7:20 of ice time, while Konstantin Korneyev, Denis Grebeshkov, Danis Zaripov and Alexei Tereshchenko each registered two assists.
Gerber was yanked at the 6:50 mark of the second period after yielding five goals on the first fourteen shots he faced. He was replaced by Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, who fared far better, allowing only an Alexander Ovechkin goal at 18:07 of the second period. For Ovechkin, it was his team-leading sixth goal of the tournament. In the other crease, Evgeni Nabokov stopped all 22 shots he faced to record a shutout.
At 1:00 p.m on Friday, Russia faces off against scrappy Finland, which defeated the United States 3-2 in overtime on Wednesday on Sami Lepisto’s first goal of the Championships. Finland is led by Mikko Koivu and Teemu Selanne up front, and also boast the Finnish Elite League’s leading goal scorer among defensemen in Anssi Salmela. An already difficult matchup becomes an even larger task without Kovalchuk.