VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Alexander Ovechkin downplayed the significance of the jarring, open-ice hit he inflicted on Czech Republic forward Jaromir Jagr early in the third period of Russia's 4-2 victory Sunday in the teams' preliminary-round finale.
But Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals' franchise player, didn't need to say much. The blow changed the flow of the game and rattled Jagr, who was separated from the puck and helpless as Russia turned up ice and created a two-on-one finished off by Evgeni Malkin for a 3-1 lead.
"It is just a moment," Ovechkin said. "If I have a chance to hit somebody, it does not matter who it is."
The Czechs made it close on a goal by Milan Michalek with just over five minutes to play, adding drama to the opener of the all-world tripleheader that will wrap up the first round of the tournament. But Russian goaltender Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks stood tall and Pavel Datsyuk's empty-net goal clinched the triumph and a bye to the quarterfinals for Russia.
Never miss a local story.
"If it was legal or wasn't legal, I made a mistake. I shouldn't do it. I should make a different choice," Jagr said of carrying the puck up the middle of the ice. "If I would know it was going to help them, I wouldn't do it. But you don't have much time."
The Czechs were awaiting the outcome of the last two games — Canada versus the U.S. and Sweden versus Finland — to know whether they would be among the top four teams and get a bye or whether they'll have to compete in a play-in round Tuesday.
Jagr, the five-time NHL scoring champion who plays in Russia's KHL, said he didn't really care whether the hit was clean because he knew he shouldn't have left himself so vulnerable in that situation.
"I didn't see anybody who I could pass to and I tried to hold the puck a little longer and that was a mistake," he said. "If I would dump it in, that would be a different story. But I didn't."
Czech captain Patrik Elias said it was legal, if unfortunate for his team.
"It was clean," said Elias, long a mainstay for the New Jersey Devils. "He knows he can't carry the puck like that."
Malkin gave Russia a 1-0 lead at 15 minutes 13 seconds of the first period on a sharp-angle shot from the right side. The Czechs tied it during a five-on-three power play late in the period. Tomas Kaberle had taken a shot that popped in the air and Datsyuk whiffed on his attempt to bat it down. The puck went to Tomas Plekanec in the left circle, and the Montreal Canadiens' forward took a hard wrist shot that glanced off the inside of the post and in at 19:06.
Russia regained the lead at 14:34 of the second period. Alexander Radulov's pass bounced to Viktor Kozlov, a former NHL player now playing in Russia's KHL, and Kozlov's shot caught goaltender Tomas Vokoun leaning the wrong way and slid under the goalie's glove.
Then came the hit and the goal, at 1:49 of the third period.
"It's pretty hard to play against Russia when you're down like that," said Michalek, who did his part by converting a backhand pass from Marek Zidlicky.
The Czechs pulled Vokoun but couldn't get the equalizer and Datsyuk — aided by Ovechkin's second assist of the game — put it away for the Russians. It surely wasn't consolation for losing to the Czechs in the 1998 Olympic final, but it was a welcome victory for a team that had lost its previous game here to Slovakia in a shootout.
"It builds confidence," Ilya Kovalchuk said, "and it gives us an extra day off."