After an emotional 3-2 shootout win over host-nation Russia, the U.S. men’s hockey team now turns its attention to Slovenia for the team’s final group stage game.
Originally, Slovenia was considered to be the easiest group opponent for the U.S., but after its 3-1 upset over Slovakia, this game now has huge group standing implications. If the U.S. wins, it will finish group play with a 3-0 record to clinch a first-round bye.
But if Slovenia beats the U.S., the standings will get complicated. Depending on what happens when Russia and Slovakia square off, the U.S. could still finish as low as third place in the group due to tiebreakers.
The U.S. currently leads the group with five points, followed by Russia with four and Slovenia with three. Slovakia has zero points and is no longer in contention to earn the group’s first-round bye. But the other three teams are all still alive.
Slovenia is ranked 18th in the world and makes its first Olympic appearance in the men's tournament. But despite being huge underdogs against Slovakia, which sent 13 NHL players to Sochi, Slovenia found a way to pull off the upset.
“It's definitely a big thing for Slovenia hockey and now that we beat Slovakia, maybe people will not mix us up any more,” Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, the only NHL player on the Slovenia roster, said. “We can definitely be proud. This definitely put Slovenia on the hockey map if we weren't already there yet.”
Entering the third period scoreless, Slovenia benefited from three goals in the first 10 minutes by Rok Ticar, captain Tomaz Razingar and Kopitar.
In their first game, the Slovenians also gave Russia all it could handle for the first 40 minutes, as Slovenia only trailed 3-2 heading into the third period. But in the final period, Russia’s depth took control, and the host country eventually won, 5-2.
Kopitar said the Slovenians needed that game to “settle the nerves.”
“We were definitely star-struck in that game,” Kopitar said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. will look for a quick turnaround after an emotional win over Russia. The Americans found themselves in a back-and-forth game that ended up going eight rounds in a shootout.
After Pavel Datsyuk scored the opening goal for Russia in the second period, U.S. defenseman Cam Fowler tied the game with a power play goal in the same frame. In the third period, Joe Pavelski scored a second power-play goal for the Americans to give the U.S. the lead. But three minutes later, Datsyuk evened the score for the Russians.
Russia apparently scored again to take a 3-2 lead with just 4:40 remaining in the third period, but the goal was waved off due to U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick's dislodging the net from its moorings during an earlier play. Quick finished with 29 saves.
In the shootout, T.J. Oshie went 4-for-6 against Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. International rules allow the same player to take multiple shots after the first three rounds of a shootout, and U.S. coach Dan Bylsma leaned on Oshie, one of the NHL's shootout specialists.
The game between Team USA and Slovenia is scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m. ET on Sunday. The NBC Sports Network will broadcast the event live, and viewers can watch a free live stream online with NBC Live Extra.
Prediction: USA over Slovenia, 7-0