The U.S. men's team kicked off its Group A qualifiers in ice hockey with a 7-1 stifling of Slovakia on Thursday, which included a six-goal second period from the Americans. Paul Stastny netted a pair of goals, and four different players tallied two assists.
There are two more matches remaining in the group stage. Here is a preview of each of those clashes along with a peek ahead to the knockout stages.
When: Saturday, Feb. 15, and Sunday, Feb. 16, at 7:30 a.m. ET
Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome and Shayba Arena
Watch: Live on NBCSN
Odds of Gold: Canada and Russia both 23-10, Sweden 9-2, United States 13-2, Finland 14-1 (per Oddschecker.com)
United States vs. Russia
The United States faces a mammoth task on Saturday against the Russians for a rematch of the legendary 1980 "Miracle on Ice" game.
Jonathan Quick yielded a single goal to the Slovakians that briefly tied the game 1-1 early in the second period. After an American scoring barrage that goal was rendered moot, but the Russian team will offer a much, much tougher test.
The Russians are not to be trifled with, and the men's hockey team has tremendous pressure placed on it to win gold for the host nation.
Russia rolled over Slovenia in predictable fashion in its first group game. Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin assisted each other on their first-period goals, then Malkin helped set up Ilya Kovalchuk's power-play goal in the second period, which proved to be the eventual game-winner.
The weak point of the Russian team could very well be goalie Semyon Varlamov, who allowed two goals to Slovenia on just 14 shots. If the Americans can rattle him, they could pull off a crucial early victory.
Semyon Varlamov gets the first start for Russia at the Olympics. Sergei Bobrovsky serves as backup.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) February 13, 2014
Though Sergei Bobrovsky is the NHL's reigning winner of the Vezina Trophy, Varlamov gets the nod in net with more international experience. As noted by Joe Yerdon of Pro Hockey Talk: "Varlamov enters the Olympics with a bit more experience than Bobrovsky in international competition. The Avs starter has played in three out of four of the past World Championships and was a member of the 2010 Russian Olympic team."
Slovenia vs. United States
The United States will get no rest whatsoever as they must face Slovenia on Sunday. The team will surely be bruised after a clash with Russia the previous day, but the Slovenians will also be playing a back-to-back after going against Zdeno Chara and Slovakia.
Ziga Jeglic scored both Slovenian goals against Russia on Thursday, and the 25-year-old who plays his pro hockey in Sweden could make a huge name for himself with another strong game against the Americans. Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar is one of the few recognizable names on the team, but Team USA cannot afford to be lulled into a sense of security.
Kopitar will go against Kings teammate Quick, who was chosen to start in goal over Ryan Miller. As Quick admitted to the Associated Press, via the Boston Herald, there are other worthy starters but they all share the same goal: "We’ve got a few great goalies here. Each one probably deserves to play and can make a case for each of them in their own right. So, regardless of what his decision was, whatever your role is, you’re just trying to do what you can to help your team."
Forward Patrick Kane could be the X-factor for the United States, and he will be eager to find the net after assisting on a pair of goals in the 7-1 win but missing out on the scoring party.
Who will win the men's gold medal in ice hockey?
Remainder of Tournament
Under the men's format with three groups of four teams, the top team in each heads straight to the quarterfinals, as well as the best second-place team across Groups A, B and C. The remaining eight teams then play each other in a further qualification game for a chance at the quarterfinals.
From there on out, it becomes a knockout tournament where any loss will cost that country a shot at gold.
The quarters will be held on Feb. 19 and the semifinals on Feb. 21. The bronze medal gets decided on the Feb. 22 with the gold-medal game on Feb. 23 to close out the Olympiad.