SOCHI, Russia – For the first time in their nation’s history, Slovenia won an Olympic hockey game.
Participating in their first Winter Games tournament, Slovenia stunned Slovakia on Saturday, 3-1, in the biggest upset of the Sochi Olympic tournament so far.
The victory was fueled by three third-period goals in a 5-minute and 59-second stretch – capped by a stellar individual effort by Anze Kopitar, Slovenia’s lone NHL representative.
The victory came after Slovenia put a scare into the host nation in their first ever Olympic game, falling 5-2 after hanging with Russia for most of the game. As Kopitar said after that contest: “We're definitely not playing the flashiest hockey, but it got us here, so it's got to be something right.”
Slovenia defeated Slovakia with a similar workmanlike effort.
The teams were scoreless through two periods, as both teams tallied 19 shots and Slovenia’s Robert Kristan and Slovakia’s Jaroslav Halak stopped them all.
Slovakia had a chance to strike first, but squandered two power plays late in the second and carrying over to the third period – including a point blank backhander by Tomas Surovy that missed the net.
Just three minutes into the third period, on the power play, Slovenia struck.
Forward Ziga Jeglic, who dazzled against Russia, sent a pass to the slot where Rok Ticar outhustled a backcheck by Milan Bartovic and made it 1-0 on a sharp backhand.
It was 2-0 just over five minutes later when Slovenia victimized Slovakia’s best defenseman: Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins.
Jan Urbas sent the puck from behind the net out in front where it got lost in Chara’s skates. Unable to clear it, captain Tomaz Razingar collected it and beat Halak.
Then it was Kopitar’s turn. He skated the puck from the right corner of the Slovak offensive zone, through the middle of the ice, patiently waiting out Halak and the entire Slovak defense before firing home the puck into a gaping net. It was the first Olympic goal for the Los Angeles Kings star.
Kristan, a former goalie for Russia’s KHL, made 27 saves, with only a late Tomas Jurco power play goal getting by him.
Slovakia previously was trounced by the U.S., 7-1, in their tournament opener.
Slovenia next plays the Americans, after their showdown with Russia on Saturday. Suddenly, that no longer looks like a “gimmie” on the U.S. schedule.