Thursday, February 13, 2014

USA A-OK in first-ever victory against Slovakia

Sochi, Russia -- For about 62 seconds there, we should have been worried.

That's how long it was in between Tomas Tatar's tying goal early in the second period and Ryan Kesler's go-ahead marker which put the Americans up for good.

In all, Team USA used a six-goal blitz in the middle frame and rolled to a 7-1 victory over Slovakia in their Olympic opener on Thursday morning.

It was their first-ever victory against the relatively new nation. Slovakia managed to tie the USA, 3-3, in its first time out in Lillehammer, and beat the Red, White and Blue in 2006.

Paul Stastny scored twice in the burst, while David Backes, Phil Kessel and Dustin Brown all lit the lamp. John Carlson added a first-period marker and Jonathan Quick stopped 22 shots in his Olympic debut, showing the same kind of hot hand he possessed for the LA Kings since returning from injury.

Kesler struck at the 1:26 mark, set up by Patrick Kane for an easy one-timer which beat Blues netminder and Slovak starter Jaroslav Halak.

It was 3-1 for the USA at 2:32, when Stastny was left alone in the slot to pick up a Max Pacioretty rebound, then Backes provided a three-goal margin with 8:16 played on a power play when he was credited with a final whack at a loose puck at the right side of the Slovakian net that slipped just inside the far post.

Stastny then rushed the net from the left-wing side and poked a long cross-ice pass from Kevin Shattenkirk through Halak's pads, chasing him from the contest at 13:30. Peter Budaj was then rudely welcomed into the contest as Kessel beat his man to the right post and tapped in a Kesler dish only 50 seconds later.

Brown positioned himself perfectly in the slot to take a Carlson dish and whip it home to cap the scoring with 4:43 remaining in the second.

Halak ended up allowing five scores on 25 shots, and Budaj stopped 6-of-8 chances the rest of the way.

Dan Bylsma's team faces host Russia on Saturday morning, and then ends pool play against Slovenia. The Russians took down Anze Kopitar's home nation by a 5-2 count earlier. Finland also opened up its Olympic slate with an 8-4 decision against Austria.

Carlson put his nation on the board first, trailing behind Kessel on the rush and one-timing a slapper under the crossbar from the right wing with 5:33 remaining in the opening period.

Slovakia's goal was not without controversy. Marian Hossa intercepted a clear about a foot outside the blue line, but edged closer to the zone without hearing a whistle. He eventually flipped the puck ahead to a waiting Tatar, who weaved from right to left and beat Quick high to the glove side.

The seven-goal outburst was the most for an American Olympic squad since its 8-1 triumph over Belarus in qualifying play on February 18, 2002 at Salt Lake City.

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