Preview: Slovenia provides test as U.S. tries to win Group A
SLOVENIA vs. UNITED STATES
When: Sunday, 4:30 a.m. PT (NBCSN)
Where: Shayba Arena
What's at stake: While the United States is in the driver's seat in Group A with five points (one regulation win, one shootout win), Russia (four points) and Slovenia (three points) remain alive as well. The U.S. can seal its automatic bid to the quarterfinals with a regulation win, while Slovenia would need a regulation win and some help from Slovakia against Russia in a game also scheduled to face off at 7:30 a.m. (USA, SNET) over at Bolshoy Ice Dome.
Slovenia: In the opening days of the men's hockey tournament, Latvia, Austria, Norway and Slovenia all made bids to pull off a major upset and came up short. Slovenia trailed Russia by just a goal in the third period Thursday before going on to a 5-2 defeat. Instead of letting how close they came get them down, the Slovenians came back with a vengeance Saturday and made history in the process.
Led by goaltender Robert Kristan, who matched Jaroslav Halak of Slovakia with 19 saves through two periods, Slovenia kept the game scoreless into the third and broke through for its first lead of the 2014 Sochi Olympics when Roc Ticar scored on a power play. Captain Tomas Razingar and Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar added to the lead and even a late goal that spoiled Kristan's shutout bid couldn't dampen his brilliant 27-save performance in a 3-1 win.
"It's amazing, but there's not much time to celebrate," Kristan told the IIHF website. "We've got a tough game against the U.S. to come."
United States: Make no mistake, coach Dan Bylsma will have his troops prepared and there will be no way the U.S. overlooks Slovenia. However, it's going to be difficult for the Americans to match the intensity level from less than 24 hours earlier when they survived an eight-round shootout and recorded a dramatic 3-2 win against Russia, putting themselves in control of their destiny in group play.
Bylsma started Kings goalie Jonathan Quick for a second consecutive game Saturday and Quick didn't disappoint. After a relatively easy 22-save effort in a 7-1 win against Slovakia on Thursday, he had to make 29 stops -- many difficult and under duress -- through 60 minutes of regulation and a five-minute overtime Saturday. Quick then stopped five of eight shootout attempts, including the final two he faced.
If the game Sunday needs the penalty-shot tiebreaker to decide it, safe to say St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie will be in Bylsma's plans. He scored on the Americans' first attempt against Russia and then went 3-for-5 over the final five rounds (IIHF rules allow the same shooter to repeat as many times as desired after the third round). The U.S. power play also clicked twice on Saturday, with Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler and San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski scoring.
"It was awesome," Pavelski said. "Whatever type of game you want to explain it as, it was that."
What's next: If either country wins Group A or ends up as the top second-place finisher among the three groups, it won't have to play again until Wednesday. Four teams gain those automatic berths, while the other eight will be in action Tuesday in the qualification playoff round.