SOCHI, Russia – It lacked the electricity, pace, competition, drama … well, it lacked everything Team USA’s game against the Russians 24 hours earlier. But the Americans still throttled Slovenia, 5-1 to move to 3-0-0 and win Group A, earning a bye and a trip to the quarterfinals of the medal round.
Team USA is likely a No. 3 seed in the medal round, thanks to their shootout win vs. Russa.
They have Phil Kessel to thank for most of their tallies on Sunday.
The Toronto Maple Leafs sniper had a natural hat trick, the first three-goal Olympic game for an American player since John LeClair in 2002.
Two of the goals came in the first period, and the first came just over a minute into the game. Kessel blazed through the offensive zone, schooled Mitja Robar with a move and then beat Luka Gracnar five hole just 1:04 into the game. Joe Pavelski had the assist.
Three minutes and 29 seconds, Kessel and Pavelski hooked up again, with Pavelski sending a cross-ice pass to a breaking Kessel at the crease. He got a stick on the pass and sent it home. Kessel completed the hat trick at 11:05 of the second on a shot by that was saved, the rebound going to Kessel for the layup. Pavelski, again, and James van Riemsdyk had the assists.
Kessel now has seven points in three games, including four goals.
Ryan McDonagh made it 4-0 just 1:12 later, assisted by Blake Wheeler and last night’s hero, T.J. Oshie.
David Backes closed out the scoring with a hard-driving goal to the Slovenia net.
Goalie Ryan Miller, the 2010 Olympic hero getting his first start of the tournament, stopped 17 shots from Slovenia (1-2-0) for the win, although he yielded a goal with 17 seconds left to Marcel Rodman.
Anze Kopitar, the Los Angeles Kings star and Slovenia’s lone NHL player, skated 11:31 but left the game for undisclosed reasons.