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Russia’s ex-NHL tough guy Nazarov denounces criticism of Ovechkin over fistfight

In his 571 NHL regular games, Andrey Nazarov earned 1,409 minutes of time served in the penalty box for a total of 133 fights

MOSCOW, April 16. /TASS/. Russia’s NHL star Alexander Ovechkin, who plays for Washington Capitals, should not be criticized for knocking out a player from another team during a Stanley Cup playoff match since it was an honest head-to-head encounter, former NHL tough guy from Russia Andrey Nazarov told TASS on Tuesday.

On Monday night, the Carolina Hurricanes blanked the Washington Capitals 5-0 during Game 3 of NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs. During the 11th minute of the match with 0-0 flashing on the scoreboard, Capital’s captain Ovechkin and his fellow NHL compatriot from the Hurricanes, Andrei Svechnikov, got into a pushing and shoving match that turned into a fistfight with the 33-year-old veteran knocking out the 19-year-old rookie from Russia with a solid right hook.

"Two professional ice hockey players duked it out one-on-one," Nazarov said in an interview with TASS. "Svechnikov challenged Ovechkin and the latter knocked him out."

"Carolina’s forward was simply not ready," the 44-year-old former NHL tough guy said. "It was an honest fight, therefore Alexander [Ovechkin] does not deserve to be criticized."

The video footage from the NHL’s Capitals-Hurricanes playoff match shows Svechnikov in the middle of the opening period slashing Ovechkin below the waist, then giving him a push and a shove and finally landing a slight punch on his face provoking a showdown.

A split second later, the gloves came off and Ovechkin responded with three lightning punches flooring the 19-year-old Russian rookie in the blink of an eye. Svechnikov, who is 14 years younger than the NHL veteran, was escorted out of the rink by medics, while Ovechkin was sent to serve five minutes in the penalty box.

Nazarov's career in the NHL spanned nearly a decade and a half from 1993 to 2006 playing for various teams, including the San Jose Sharks, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Calgary Flames, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the Boston Bruins, the Phoenix Coyotes and the Minnesota Wild.

In his 571 NHL regular games, Nazarov booked 53 goals and 71 assists, but his tough guy image earned him an impressive 1,409 minutes of time served in the penalty box for a total of 133 fights. Nazarov is currently the head coach for the Russian ice hockey club Neftekhimik, which plays in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

Russia’s Andrei Nikolishin, the ice hockey world champion and the bronze medalist of the 2002 Olympics, said Svechnikov underestimated his chances by provoking a fight with such experienced player as Ovechkin.

"They have been under various confrontations throughout the season and I can understand Andrei Svechnikov, who is in his first year with the NHL, wants to secure his berth in the league and to prove something to everyone," Nikolishin said in an interview with TASS.

In the course of his rookie year with the NHL, Svechnikov booked 20 goals and 17 assists during the regular season matches as well as two goals and one assist in three playoff matches.

"If we speak in general, he [Svechnikov] initiated the incident as he was the first to slash, the first to deliver a punch, the first to call it a fight, but he underestimated his strength and abilities…," Nikolishin said adding that Svechnikov was likely to skip the next match as he suffered a severe blow from Ovechkin.

"Ovechkin has been a grown up man for a long time now, has been for a long time in the league, so one should now who are you jumping at," he added.

After the match on Monday, Ovechkin said he hoped that Svechnikov was okay and would continue playing.

"I hope he’s okay," Ovechkin was quoted as saying by the RMNB (Russian Machine Never Breaks) web portal. "You don’t want to see a guy get hurt."

"I’m not a big fighter. He’s the same. He asked me to fight, I said ‘let’s go," Ovechkin added.

Russia’s Valery Zelepukin, the 1995 Stanley Cup winner, the 1991 World Championship bronze medalist and the 1998 Olympics silver medalist, said in an interview with TASS that Svechnikov should have decided against provoking the fight with the captain of the Washington Capitals.

"Svechnikov should have avoided using a stick [to slash Ovechkin] in his provocation," Zelepukin told TASS. "This is undoubtedly the playoff series with emotions over the edge, but Svechnikov had to bear in mind who he was trying to go at. It was unwise, but the young blood boiled over.".