Russia received a tough challenge from Slovenia before pulling away in the third period to score a 5-2 win in the Olympic opener for both sides. Five different players scored for the host nation.
The men's hockey team is under intense pressure in Russia. So when it entered the third period with just a one-goal lead over what should have been an overmatched opponent, the anxiety was beginning to build. Getting back on track in the final 20 minutes was a crucial step in the right direction.
With that in mind, let's check out how the game unfolded and look at the updated group standings. It's followed by a complete recap of the Russians' triumph inside the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
Result and Group Standings
|Group A - Russia vs. Slovenia|
|Team||1st Period||2nd Period||3rd Period||Total|
|Group A Standings|
No sooner had the raucous Russian fans taken their seats before the team gave them something more to cheer about. Alex Ovechkin broke down the left wing and unleashed a wicked wrist shot past Robert Kristan to give Russia a 1-0 lead just over a minute into the game.
The home crowd erupted with a combination of elation and relief. The men's hockey team is carrying a lot of pressure on its shoulders, and getting out of the gates quickly took at least a little bit of that away. It was exactly the start the Russians needed.
Before the Games, Ovechkin talked about the situation with Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo! Sports and acknowledged the pressure that will follow the team for the next few weeks:
I think it is not a secret that we are going to be under an immense amount of pressure. The three days we will have will certainly be needed, maybe for someone to recover from an injury, to come up with optimal lines. We will also have to talk about the tactics, about the power play and the penalty kill. I think the special teams will be a very important component for us, a very important aspect of our game.
Less than three minutes after the Washington Capitals superstar opened the scoring, Evgeni Malkin sent the fans into a frenzy again to make it 2-0. The big names made a major statement early.
Pierre LeBrun of ESPN noted the crowd reaction after the second Russian goal inside the first four minutes:
The story for the rest of the first period was the two goalies.
There was about a five-minute stretch following the second Russian goal where Slovenia was able to generate some pressure. Semyon Varlamov stood tall, making a couple key stops to ensure Russia kept its edge.
Varlamov—and fellow netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, if he gets playing time—will be key to success for the home team. There's no doubting the offensive firepower, but the defense isn't as strong, which means the goalies will need to step up against top opponents.
After Russia withstood that Slovenian surge, it got back on the attack. Kristan was able to keep his opponent at bay after allowing those two early tallies to at least keep the underdogs within striking distance heading into the first intermission.
Slovenia got back within one early in the second period as Mitja Robar found Ziga Jeglic wide open in the slot. The 25-year-old forward made no mistake as he wired a quick shot past Varlamov, who was screened by his own defenseman.
Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada passed along word that it was the first goal in Olympic play for the nation:
The goal was the start of a trend that would last for most of the second period. Slovenia played a far more physical brand of hockey to take time and space away from the Russian superstars, which is tough on the larger ice surface, but it was effective for an extended stretch.
Russia was able to stretch the lead back to two on the power play courtesy of Ilya Kovalchuk. The extra man allowed the Russians to get set up shop in the offensive zone, and a team with that much talent is going to convert a high percentage of those chances.
To Slovenia's credit, it answered right back. Jeglic broke free from the Russian defense and made no mistake once he was one-on-one with Varlamov, calmly finding the net with a quick release for his second goal of the game.
Adam Kimelman of NHL.com noted Jeglic had just two goals in 32 games while playing in the Finnish Elite League this season:
Russia increased its lead once again early in the third on a tremendous individual effort by Valeri Nichushkin. He picked up a head of steam, skated right by the Slovenian defense and slid the puck past Kristan to make it 4-2.
From there, Russia took complete control. It started to move the puck around the same way it did early in the first period. The quick passes from tape to tape eventually led to a fifth goal, this time on a rocket from the point by Anton Belov.
The two goals in rapid succession allowed the Russian fans to start celebrating again after some tense moments, according to Chris Johnston of Rogers Sportsnet:
This time, Slovenia wasn't able to mount a rally. Russia cruised to the finish line with the 5-2 win.
Up next for Russia is its toughest test of the group stage: the United States. The Americans were on fire against Slovakia in their 7-1 opening win. Add in the fact it's probably the top matchup of the round, and the atmosphere should be electric.
As for Slovenia, it will look to rebound against Slovakia. There were certainly some positive stretches throughout the game for the team to build on heading into the next contest. It did seem to have enough star power to stay with Russia for all 60 minutes.
Updated Medal Count
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