Canadian women stay undefeated, beat Finland 4-1 at Olympics


GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The Canadians are playing on their favorite stage at the Olympics, and their top line of captain Marie-Philip Poulin, Megan Agosta and Melodie Daoust is peaking at just the right time.

Agosta and Daoust each had a goal and an assist, and Canada beat Finland 4-1 Tuesday in pursuit of the country's fifth straight Olympic gold medal in women's hockey. Poulin added a goal as the line combined for five points.

"The three of them together obviously can create some magic for us, and they sure have done that for us in the last two games," Canada coach Laura Schuler said.

With the win, the Canadians have outscored consecutive opponents 9-1 going into their preliminary round showdown Thursday with their biggest rivals, the United States.

Jillian Saulnier also scored, and Shannon Szabados made 22 saves for the win. Szabados just missed the shutout when she couldn't get her right leg out in time to stop a rebound. "I think the 'W' is a little more important," Szabados said.

Finland came to the Olympics ranked third in the world and hoping to put together one perfect game against the powerful North Americans. Now the two-time bronze medalists can only hope for another chance at the Pyeongchang Games after losing to the United States 3-1 to open pool play.

As NHL stays away, Russians eye opportunity

Even without the stars from their homeland, who are currently dominating the NHL, Russian players are confident on the eve of their opener Wednesday against Slovakia at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

For the first time since 1994, elite NHL stars are not at the Olympics. NHL owners decided not to shut down the season, over money and injury issues.

The Russian-based Kontinental hockey League halted its campaign and the Olympic Athletes from Russia — banned from using their flag and anthem after the Sochi doping scandal — will include 15 players from KHL leader SKA St. Petersburg, and eight more from second-best CSKA Moscow.

That familiarity and top young talent being eyed by the NHL makes the Russian squad a favourite in an up-for-grabs tournament.

And that's without NHL stars Alex Ovechkin, a Washington winger who leads the NHL with 33 goals, winger Nikita Kucherov, who paces the NHL in total points with 30 goals and 41 assists, and his Tampa Bay teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy, who leads goaltenders with 33 wins.

Ilya Kovalchuk, a 34-year-old left winger who played 11 NHL seasons, makes his fifth Olympic appearance on a team trying to produce the first Olympic gold for Russian talent since the 1992 Unified Team.

For Russian talent, there's a stinging memory of a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Finland on 2014 Sochi Olympic home ice.

OAR assistant coach Harijs Vitolins dismisses the favorites role. "Our team is level now," he said. "Each player needs to understand he has a chance to decide the game and each knows his role. That's one of the positive aspects." — Agencies