(Photo credit: AP)
It opened looking like an evenly-matched game, with no pucks in the net until John Carlson scored top shelf with 5:33 left in the first off a drop pass from Phil Kessel. This was Carlson’s first shot in his Olympic debut.
Team USA held that lead into first intermission. Goaltender Jonathan Quick made four saves in the period.
Slovakia came out hard in the second, with Tomas Tatar tying the score off a pass from Marian Hossa just 30 seconds into the period. Slow motion replay would reveal the play was offside (in fact, Hossa seemed to hold the puck at the blue line awaiting a whistle that didn’t come before proceeding with the play), but this went unnoticed by officials.
The Americans weren’t happy with a tie, and they showed it the rest of the period.
Patrick Kane set up Ryan Kesler for a one-timer in the same top-shelf sweet spot Carlson found in the first period to take back their lead.
Paul Stastny rebounded a Pacioretty shot into an open net within the next two minutes.
Team USA scored four more unanswered goals in the second period. David Backes battled the puck through a busy net front. Stastny scored again off a cross-ice pass from Kevin Shattenkirk, making it 5-1, and sending Slovakian netminder Jaroslav Halak to the bench after stopping 20/25 shots. Peter Budaj took his place.
Less than a minute later, James Van Riemsdyk passed to Kessel, who was staking out the net and was able to tip in another goal.
And, with just 4:43 left in the second period, Dustin Brown fired a wrist shot from a John Carlson pass right past Budaj, giving USA the 7-1 lead.
The American team killed a Kessel slashing penalty to close the second and open the third, and both teams battled through a scoreless final period to close the game. For the first half of the period, Slovakia led in shots. Budaj shut down Stastny’s attempt for a hat trick with about 8:30 left in the game.
“I guess you never really expect to beat a team like that 7-1, and you never do it in a tournament like this,” Captain Zach Parise said. “We just capitalized on the chances we had, moved the puck well and used our speed.”
Kane, T.J. Oshie and van Riemsdyk had two assists apiece. Stastny and Kessel each scored twice. The new environment of European ice fared well for the team.
“For the first time on the big ice for most of us, I thought we did pretty well,” Stastny said. “Our strengths are our puck possession and our speed, and we were really able to use both of them. All four lines just kind of clicked, and so did our D-men.”
In the two previous Olympic meetings, Slovakia was victorious against Team USA.
Slovakia was just 15 minutes from a Bronze medal in their game against Finland in 2010. With players like Zdeno Chara, Hossa, and Marcus Kruger, and after a hard fought 3-2 loss to Canada just four years ago, they remain a team with potential.
“We’re going to be better,” Tatar said. “We had a solid first period and then tied it. We’ve just got to play way better in our defensive zone. I think we’re going to be ready to play the next game. We have a lot of talent in our locker room, and we’re going to sort it out.”
They’ll play Slovenia Saturday.
“It’s about one game, and you can beat anybody in one game,” Hossa told media about the Olympics before the games.
Team USA has one game behind them–victorious.
Jonathan Quick stopped 22 of 23 shots and is expected to start Saturday against Russia, with a 7:30 am EST puck drop.