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Ovechkin scores 2 to help Russia beat Latvia 8-2

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Alex Ovechkin leaned over the boards from the bench, looking like he desperately wanted to get on the ice when Russia had power plays.

The Russians, though, chose to evenly roll groups of five skaters in a tuneup against Latvia.

Alexander The Great still had time to shine.

Ovechkin scored late in the first period to give Russia a three-goal lead and early in the third to restore a four-goal cushion, setting up an 8-2 rout of Latvia on Tuesday night.

"It was important that all players had their time to play so that they could warm up for the tournament," Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov said through a translator. "We allowed all the lines to play the power play.

"The next lines will be formed with a more certain goal in mind."

Russia will face a much stiffer test Thursday night against Slovakia.

The Latvians avoided a shutout when Herberts Vasiljevs scored in the opening seconds of the final period.

Russia responded with two goals — including Danis Zaripov's second — in less than a minute.

"We relaxed and started playing better," Ovechkin, two-time reigning NHL MVP, said in an interview that was translated for The Associated Press. "We just let go and played a bit."

Evgeni Nabokov made 18 saves for the Russians, and Latvia's Edgars Masalskis stopped 37 shots.

The Russians are a popular pick to win Olympic gold for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Soviets won seven of nine Olympics — losing only to the U.S. in 1960 and 1980 — and the Unified Team of former Soviet republics was atop the medal stand again in 1992.

Russia has some of the NHL's top talent and is also loaded the team with many players from the country's own KHL, presenting a legitimate threat to Canada's hopes of winning the gold on home ice.

"Everybody give us the credit but now we have to put it on the ice," Sergei Fedorov said.

Russia fell short of high expectations four years ago, flopping to a fourth-place finish.

The Russians committed too many (five) penalties and were shaky (1 for 8) on the power play in Tuesday's game, but got away with it against the undermanned Latvians.

"It was the first game and nobody expected the first game to be perfect," Sergei Gonchar said.

Latvia has just two players on its roster from the NHL: Oskars Bartulis of the Philadelphia Flyers and Karlis Skrastins of the Dallas Stars. Sixteen of its 23 players come from Dinamo Riga of the KHL.

Unlike the powerhouse Canadians, who got off to a slow start before rolling past Norway 8-0, Russia struck quick.

Evgeni Malkin noticed what Canada did.

"We both had great starts, hope we can continue on the Russian team," he said.

Zaripov scored 2:38 into the game off a cross-crease pass from Fedorov. Alexander Radulov scored midway through the first period, with the 40-year-old Fedorov again on the assist.

"I still got some legs left," Fedorov said.

After Russia's KHL standouts started the scoring barrage, the NHL's best got going.

Ovechkin scored his first goal in the final minute of the first period, and Malkin made it 4-0 late in the second on a power-play goal, stunting some confidence the scrappy Latvians seemed to be building after denying the Russians the first five times they had an extra skater.

"First 10 minutes, we were waiting and watching what they are doing and we were flat," Skrastins said. "After that we picked up our game, started moving, started skating and then we started getting some chances."

Latvia's boisterous drum-banging, flag-waving fans — one of whom entertained the crowd by dancing in the aisles — erupted 33 seconds into the third period when Vasiljevs wheeled between the circles and got a shot past Nabokov.

But then they were silenced by Russian's superior talent that combined to score three goals in just over 2 minutes, capped by Ilya Kovalchuk's goal that made it 7-1.

"We practiced once," Fedorov said.

That was enough.