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Team USA demolishes Slovakia in Olympic opener

Greg Wyshynski
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Team USA dominates Slovakia

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SOCHI, Russia — If Slovakia was Team USA’s first test on the larger ice surface of the Sochi Olympics men’s hockey tournament, they aced it.

Paul Stastny had two goals and Phil Kessel had three points as the Americans controlled play, chased a goalie and lit up the scoreboard with a 7-1 domination in their Olympic opener on Thursday.

The rout began after a Slovakian goal that shouldn’t have counted.

Slovak forward Tomas Tatar, of the Detroit Red Wings, erased a 1-0 deficit just 24 seconds into the second period on a play that clearly should have been whistled as offside. But rather than deflating the Americans, it ignited a fire under their offense, which scored two goals in the next 1:05.

[Related: USA men's hockey routs Slovakia 7-1 in Olympic opener]

On the go-ahead goal, Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane set up Ryan Kesler from the point for a blast as Dustin Brown provided a screen in front of Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak.

For more photos of USA vs. Slovakia, click on the image above. (USA TODAY Sports)

Then it was the fourth line’s time to shine. TJ Oshie transitioned to offense after a turnover by the Slovak defense, sending a pass across the crease to forward Max Pacioretty. Halak slid over to make a good stop, but the rebound was gift-wrapped for center Paul Stastny, who scored the hockey equivalent of a layup into an open net for the 3-1 lead. Stastny's goal came just 1:02 after Kesler's, and the rout was on.

Just under six minutes later, David Backes converted in a scrum in front of the Slovak net, smacking the puck past Halak as a U.S. power play ended to make it 4-1. It was 5-1 when Stastny scored his second of the night, on a feed to the crease from defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

[Related: Men's hockey medal predictions]

Halak had been shellacked. Off to the bench he went, as Slovak backup Peter Budaj entered the game.

It didn’t matter. Forward James van Riemsdyk found his Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Phil Kessel for a tip-in to make it 6-1 at 15:17 of the period. Brown made it 7-1 less than a minute later, on a feed from defenseman John Carlson to the slot.

After six goals in just under 14 minutes, Slovakian coach Vladimir Vujtek called perhaps the most overdue timeout in Olympic history.

The beneficiary of this offensive rout was goalie Jonathan Quick, starting his first Olympic game after serving as a backup to Ryan Miller in the 2010 Vancouver Games. His selection as starter over Miller was controversial, but outside of Slovakia’s lone tally, he was strong in making 22 saves.

Tatar’s goal, after that blown offside call, was a nasty snipe that beat Quick to his glove side. But Quick recovered in the next sequence, making two outstanding saves to ensure the Slovaks didn’t quickly add another.

The Americans opened the scoring in the first. Kessel streaked into the Slovak zone, shadowed by defenseman Martin Marincin. He dropped a pass to Carlson, who loaded the cannon and blasted an unscreened shot past Halak for the 1-0 lead at 14:27 of the first.

[Related: Alex Ovechkin powers Russia to 5-2 win over Slovenia in Olympic opener]

Next up for the U.S. is a date with Russia on Saturday in one of the tournament’s most anticipated games in the preliminary round.

Click image below for more photos from USA's win over Slovakia:

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Feb 13, 2014; Sochi, RUSSIA; USA goalie Jonathan Quick (32) is congratulated by teammates defenseman Paul Martin …

 

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