It's the Kessel Show as Team USA Earns Bye into Quarters With Win Over Slovenia
Photo credit: USATSI
After their epic shootout victory over Russia on Saturday, Team USA was right back to work on Sunday hoping to win Group A and receive a bye into the quarter-finals. To do that, however, they had to go up against Slovenia who, despite only having one NHLer on their roster, has made some noise thus far. Entering Sunday, Slovenia was primed for another upset. Unfortunately, they got off on the wrong foot early and never recovered.
After his stellar play against the Russians on Saturday, netminder Jonathan Quick was given a much-needed rest in favour of Buffalo's Ryan Miller. While Miller played well, it was what was happening up front that gave Team USA the edge on this day.
Just 1:03 into the game, Toronto's Phil Kessel made a great individual play to score the game's opening goal against Luca Gracnar, who got the start in over Robert Kristan. But Kessel wasn't done there. Just four-and-a-half minutes later, the Leafs' leading scorer struck again, making it 2-0. Joe Pavelski assisted on both goals with Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik getting the second assist on the second tally.
Fast-forward to the second where, at the 11:05 mark, Kessel completes the trifecta to put the Americans up by three. In addition to Pavelski picking up his third helper of the contest, Toronto teammate James van Riemsdyk picked up an assist.
Just 1:12 later, Ryan McDonagh made it 4-0 and three-and-a-half minutes into the third, David Backes put the US up by 5-0 - and that was more than enough.
While Ryan Miller's shutout bid was spoiled in the dying seconds of regulation, it was a small price to pay to win Group A and advance to the quarter-finals. It is undecided as of now who the Americans will face but they can't finish any better than second or worse than third.
On a sidenote, while Los Angeles Kings fans were thrilled with the victory, they did hold their collective breath late as Slovenia's Anze Kopitar left the game and did not return. Thankfully, reports have since indicted that the Kings star will be fine as he has a bout with the stomach bug. He has since gone to the hospital to have tests done but otherwise, No. 11 should be ready to go for his country's next game.
On another Kings-related note, Dustin Brown picked up an assist on the Backes goal that made it 5-0.
In addition to the American win, Sweden has won Group C and, in about 45 minutes from now, we will see the matchup which will determine who will win Group B: Canada or Finland. It should be a great finish to the preliminary schedule.