GANGNEUNG, South Korea, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Vasili Koshechkin recorded a shutout to lift the Russian men past the Czech Republic 3-0 on Friday, giving them a chance at their first Olympic gold medal in men’s ice hockey for more than a quarter of a century.
In a rematch of sorts from their last shot at gold in Nagano in 1998, the Russians turned the tables on the Czechs, who then foiled their hopes by beating them 1-0 on a brilliant goaltending performance by Dominik Hasek.
The Russians, playing as the Olympic Athletes from Russia because of a doping ban, won on a pair of second-period goals by Nikita Gusev and Vladislav Gavrikov less than a minute apart.
It was a cautious, tight-checking game before a crowd dominated by jubilant, flag-waving Russian fans who had come directly from seeing teenage figure skater Alina Zagitova deliver the country’s first gold medal of the Pyeongchang Games.
After a scoreless first period, the Russians broke the deadlock midway through the second period.
Pavel Datsyuk, the Russian captain and two-times Stanley Cup winner with the Detroit Red Wings, came in on the right wing and fed the puck across the goal mouth to Gusev, who fired a wrist shot behind Pavel Francouz.
Ivan Telegin then swept into the Czech zone and back-handed it in front of the goal to Gavrikov and he redirected it mid-air past Francouz.
Ilya Kovalchuk rounded out the scoring with an empty-net goal late in the third period.
The Russians last won a gold medal in hockey in 1992 in Albertville, France, in the first Winter Olympics of the post-Soviet Union era. As the Soviets, they won seven gold medals in nine Games from 1956 to 1988.
The arena was rife with Russian fans displaying tricolour flags and banners from many corners of the country, from Kursk to Kazan and Siberia, and drowning out the smaller number of Czech fans with chants of “Russia” and “Shaibu!”, which roughly translates to “Score a goal!”.
The Russians are guaranteed an Olympic medal in men’s ice hockey for the first time since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games where they won bronze.
They will play Canada or Germany in the final on Sunday. (Reporting by Dan Burns, editing by Ed Osmond)