SOCHI, Russia -- A hat trick from forward Phil Kessel powered the U.S. to a convincing 5-1 win over Slovenia on Sunday night before 4,892 spectators at Shayba Arena.
The U.S. finished group play with a 3-0 record to automatically earn a spot in the quarterfinals. In their first game, the Americans defeated Slovakia, 7-1, and then beat Russia in a shootout on Saturday, 3-2.
Kessel scored two of his three goals in the first five minutes, and the game never looked much in doubt. The Maple Leafs star would add his third in the second period to give the U.S. a commanding 3-0 lead. Less than two minutes later, Blake Wheeler showed off some impressive skating skills to assist on a Ryan McDonagh goal that would put the Americans up by four.
David Backes would add the fifth in the third period.
"The most important thing is getting the win," Kessel said, who became the first American to score a hat trick in the Olympics since John LeClair in 2002. "We just gotta keep improving and keep winning games."
Slovenia's lone star, Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, was limited by a stomach illness. The Slovenians, who played before a large contingent of fans, still managed to put pressure on the U.S. goal, but with very limited success.
Goalie Ryan Miller, who filled in for Jonathan Quick, nearly earned the shut-out, but conceded a goal to Marcel Rodman with 17.6 seconds remaining in the game. The Buffalo Sabres star made 17 saves.
Following the epic showdown with Russia, head coach Dan Bylsma would not answer who would be the starting goalie against Slovenia. After the Slovenia game, he declined to devulge who would be back in the net in the quarters. Though Miller was sharp on Sunday, Quick is expected to get the nod in the next game.
Bylsma was pleased with the results in group play. The U.S. outscored Slovakia and Slovenia, 12-2, and defeated Russia on their home ice.
"Going into the tournament, you look at our pool, and it's a tough task playing Russia on their home turf in the second game, Slovakia in one and Slovenia in another," said Bylsma. "To be able to come through in the three games and have two regulation wins and a shootout win is a good thing for our team."
While the U.S. cruised to a victory, Russia sweated out a shootout win over Slovakia at Bolshoy Ice Dome, 1-0.
Hundreds of tense Russian supporters watched three giant-screen televisions in the Olympic Park as the Russians overcame an excellent defensive effort by the Slovaks. Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov both scored in the shootout to help Russia advance to what is expected to be a qualifying elimination game.