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Team USA opens Olympics with 7-1 thrashing of Slovakia
By Mark Lazerus
SOCHI, Russia — Russia had the megastars on offense, Canada had the incredible depth up the middle, and the United States was supposed to be the scrappy group that had to get by with hard work and great goaltending because of a lack of firepower up front.
The Americans opened preliminary play in the Olympics on Thursday with a 7-1 manhandling of Slovakia at Shayba Arena, scoring six straight goals in an emphatic and impressive second period.
“I don’t think we expected it to be that kind of game, but we kept scoring goals and it was fun to watch and fun to be a part of, too,” said Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane, who had two assists. “Good start for the team.”
Paul Stastny scored twice, Phil Kessel had a goal and two assists, James Van Riemsdyk had a goal and an assist and T.J. Oshie had two assists for the Americans.
Blowouts are hardly uncommon in the preliminary round, but Slovakia is hardly a bottom-feeder. The Slovaks were 15 minutes away from a bronze medal in 2010, and have two quality NHL goaltenders in Jaroslav Halak and Peter Budaj. And with Russia looming on Saturday, the U.S. faced a very difficult start.
Canada, by contrast, opens with Norway and Austria. And while the Russians struggled to put away tiny Slovenia 5-2 at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, just a few hundred feet across Olympic Park, the Americans had their way with a solid team.
“Slovakia’s a good team, they obviously proved that last Olympics,” Kane said. “They have pretty much everything — some forwards that can score, good defensemen, goaltending, too. We didn’t really expect the score to be like that, but it’s good for guys to chip and get some confidence.”
Through one period, the game was competitive. The United States led 1-0 as John Carlson one-timed Phil Kessel’s drop pass past Halak at 14:27, but that was it, as both teams played at a high pace.
Then, the Slovaks caught a break, tying the game despite being offsides. Marian Hossa even seemed to stop, waiting for a whistle as his teammates tried to get back onside, but no whistle came, so he fed Tomas Tatar, who beat Jonathan Quick to tie it at 1-1 just 24 seconds into the second period.
That seemed to wake up the Americans.
“We played a pretty simple and pretty good first period, but the second after we scored the tying goal — I don’t know what happened,” Hossa said. “All of a sudden they were all over us. And we didn’t play well defensively.”
The U.S. got goals by Ryan Kesler (a one-timer of a Kane pass) and Stastny within two minutes of Tatar’s equalizer Then the floodgates opened. David Backes scored in a goalmouth scrum, Stastny tapped in a cross-ice pass, Kessel tipped in a Van Riemsdyk pass, and Dustin Brown kicked the extra point to make it 7-1 Team USA through two periods.
“You’re always nervous starting a tournament,” U.S. captain Zach Parise said. “Once we got our second goal, we moved up several gears.”
Halak was pulled in favor of Budaj after giving up five goals in 25 shots, but he was hung out to dry by his defense time and again.
“Tough loss, obviously,” Hossa said. “It’s not how we wanted to enter the tournament. We knew we were facing one of the favorites.”
Next up for the Americans: Russia, in the most anticipated game of the preliminary round.
“We had to take care of this, so I haven’t thought tons about it,” David Backes said. “But we know that this is their home country, they’ve been getting a lot of attention, they’ve got a lot of firepower, and there will be no need for motivation on their side. We’ll need to match that.”