Photo credit: Winslow Townson, USA TODAY Sports
On paper, it was supposed to be a blowout. But like I’ve said a million-and-one times: nothing is won on paper. Being that this is the first Olympic showing in men’s hockey for them, Slovenia should have simply been happy to be there. But if that was the mindset, someone forgot to tell Anze Kopitar and company.
Since Kopitar is the only NHLer playing for Slovenia in 2014, many expected their opponents, the host Russians, to have an easy game. If the first few minutes were any indication, the Russians were en route to doing just as they were expected.
Alex Ovechkin got things started right away as he scored 1:17 into the game to put the host side out in front. Then, at the 3:54 mark, Evgeni Malkin padded the lead. Despite the early hole, however, the Slovenes stayed strong keeping Russia to two goals.
In the second, the hard work of the Slovenians paid off as Ziga Jeglic cut the lead in half just 1:43 into the frame. The fact that Slovenia scored a goal was a big enough deal for the hockey experts – but they weren’t satisfied to simply avoid a shutout.
The score remained 2-1 until the final few minutes of the second when former NHLer Ilya Kovalchuk regained the two-goal lead for the Russians. But it was short-lived as 1:04 later, Ziga Jeglic potted his second of the game past Semyon Varlamov to make it a one-goal game once again.
Heading into the third, the Slovenes knew they had a shot to make some noise and edge the host country. Unfortunately for them, the experience and the talent on the Russian side proved to be too much.
3:59 into the third, Valeri Nichuskin regained the two-goal lead for the hosts and they weren’t done there. A few minutes later, Anton Belov made it 5-2 effectively taking the wind out of the sails of the inexperienced Slovenian squad.
So, the Russians take their 5-2 and despite the loss, Slovenia proved to be much better than their skeptics had realized. Even Anze Kopitar represented the Los Angeles Kings well drawing an assist in the defeat. Conversely, the other King in this game, Russia’s Slava Voynov, was ineffective offensively failing to register a point. Of course, considering his team won, the lack of scoring shouldn’t be treated as akin to the end of the world.
Despite recording the win, Russian netminder Semyon Varlamov was anything but spectacular stopping just 12 of 14 shots. He will need a much better effort on Saturday when the Russians play the offensively-explosive Americans. As for Slovenia, they tangle with Slovakia on Saturday hoping to nab their first win of the tournament.