SOCHI, 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 consecutive Olympic 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 the Russians’ 15 shots.
The United States’ hockey team is getting exactly what it wanted — another shot at Canada.
Dustin Brown banged in a go-ahead goal late in the first period and the Americans went on to dominate the Czech Republic 5-2 Wednesday to earn a spot in the semifinals for the third time in four Olympics.
The U.S. went on to play in the gold-medal game in 2010 and 2002 and lost each time to the Canadians.
When the Americans’ coach, Dan Bylsma, was asked to look ahead to the matchup, he took a deep breath and paused for several seconds to gather his thoughts.
“We knew we were going to have some big games prior to this point in time, but you were looking forward to the possibility of this rematch,” he said.
After a day off, the countries that share a long border in North America and generally friendly relations will meet on Friday for the chance to become hockey champions of the Sochi Games.
“It’s a great opportunity,” American forward Max Pacioretty said. “They’re obviously the favorite coming into the tournament, and we’ve opened up a lot of eyes with our play, but we have more in the tank to give and to show.
“We keep getting better every game and hopefully we’ll keep getting better after this one.”
While the Canadians had to hold off Latvia 2-1, the U.S. might be peaking at the right time to improve its chances to win Olympic hockey gold for the first time since the “Miracle on Ice,” in 1980.
If the U.S. wins two more games, anyone who has been watching them play won’t be surprised.
“This is a team that has put up a spectacular performance,” Czech Republic coach Alois Hadamczik said.
Yuna Kim of South Korea scored 74.92 points, ahead of Adelina Sotnikova of Russia by 0.28. Carolina Kostner of Italy is third with 74.12. Julia Lipnitskaia, 15, who helped Russia win the team gold on Feb. 9, fell on a triple flip. She was too tearful to speak after her worst performance in months. American champion Gracie Gold was fourth.
Marit Bjoergen captured her fifth career Olympic gold medal when Norway won the women’s team sprint. Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg was the other Norwegian skier. Finland took silver and Sweden bronze. In the men’s race, Finland took advantage of a fall that slowed its two closest rivals. Russia grabbed the silver, Sweden the bronze.
American-turned-Russian Vic Wild grew up in White Salmon, Wash., and applied for Russian citizenship after marrying Alexa Zavarzina in 2011. He then joined the Russian snowboarding team. Nevin Galmarini of Switzerland finished second for silver, and Zan Kosir of Slovenia took the bronze. In the women’s race, Patrizia Kummer cruised to victory — and Switzerland’s sixth gold medal of the games — when Japan’s Tomoka Takeuchi missed a gate midway through the second run of the finals.
Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic won her second consecutive gold in the women’s 5,000 meters. The Dutch added two more medals, with Ireen Wust winning silver and Carien Kleibeuker the bronze. Wust now has won four medals at the Sochi Games, including gold in the 3,000 and silvers in the 1,000 and 1,500. Dutch speedskaters have 21 medals overall.
Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway broke the record for overall medals that he had shared with cross-country skiing great Bjoern Daehlie. He also matched his fellow Norwegian’s record of eight gold medals. Bjoerndalen earlier won gold in Sochi in the men’s sprint biathlon. He can win another medal in the final men’s biathlon event of the Sochi Games, the 4x7.5-kilometer relay on Saturday. In the mixed relay biathlon, the Czech Republic won the silver and Italy the bronze.
The Canadian team of Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse won their second consecutive Olympic women’s bobsled gold. Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams of the U.S. took silver, and teammates Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans the bronze. Williams became the fifth Olympian to medal at both the Summer and Winter Games. She has gold and silver medals from three Olympic appearances as a sprinter.
Canada and Sweden will play for the gold medal in women’s curling after winning semifinal games that went to the final shot. In the men’s tournament, Canada will meet Britain for gold.