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Russia
Slovenia

35 SOG
14 SOG
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RUS
SLO
game recap

Host Russia holds off Slovenia in opener

Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 4:52 AM

Arpon Basu - Managing Editor LNH.com

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Host Russia holds off Slovenia in opener
Russia 5, Slovenia 2
SOCHI -- Russia's first Olympic hockey game as the host nation couldn't have gotten off to a much better start.

For a long time there was a threat of it ending in disaster.

As the Russians held a slim 3-2 lead against Olympic neophyte Slovenia late in the second period, captain Pavel Datsyuk used two words to describe the feeling on the bench.

"Tension. Warning," the Detroit Red Wings center said.

That tension turned to relief when Russia came away with a 5-2 win Thursday against Slovenia in the opening Group A game for each team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin each scored within the game's first four minutes, but it was Valeri Nichushkin's goal at 3:59 of the third period that gave Russia a 4-2 lead. That goal allowed the 11,653 rabid fans at Bolshoy Ice Dome and millions across the country who feared losing to a team making its Olympic debut to breathe a little easier.

GAME HIGHLIGHTS

NBC (US ONLY):
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CBC/RDS (CA ONLY):
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FRANÇAIS ›
- NBC highlights only available to U.S. users.
- CBC English and RDS French highlights only available to Canadian users.
"I feel pretty good. My line played well," Ovechkin, who also assisted on Malkin's goal, said when asked how the team played. "The team had a couple of mistakes but I think the pressure and the [nerves] that we have before the game, that was the result. I'm pretty sure the next game is going to be much better for us."

Ilya Kovalchuk and Anton Belov also scored for Russia and Semyon Varlamov made 12 saves.

Though many pinned the hopes of Slovenia on the play of Los Angeles Kings star center Anze Kopitar, it was a far lesser-known player who carried the country's hopes on his shoulders.

Ziga Jeglic, who plays for ERC Ingolstadt in Germany, scored the first two Olympic goals in Slovenian history and almost single-handedly caused an entire nation to panic by helping his country hang around with one of the world's hockey powers.

When asked how it felt to score his country's first Olympic goal, Jeglic smiled and then laughed as the realization of what he had done appeared to set in.

"When you say that, it's even better," he said. "It was great. I got really good passes on both of them and it kind of just went in. It was a great feeling."

Slovenia goaltender Robert Kristan played no small part with 30 saves, including 16 in the first period to keep the game within reach.

The Russians came roaring out of the gate, smothering the Slovenians early on and getting a goal from the face of these Olympics on his first shift.

Ovechkin picked up the puck at the Slovenian blue line and found himself on a 2-on-1 break with Malkin. The festive atmosphere in the building for the start of Russia's first game as hosts in an Olympic hockey tournament quickly grew in intensity with two of the country's biggest stars breaking in on goal.

The Washington Capitals captain decided to keep the puck, wound up and wired a wrist shot just under the crossbar 1:17 into the game, setting off an eruption. It was his eighth goal in his 13th Olympic game.

"Unbelievable. I would like to say thank you to our fans, they helped us," Datsyuk said of the atmosphere in the building. "We need it. They love hockey."

Less than three minutes later it was Malkin's turn. The Pittsburgh Penguins center picked up the puck at the blue line, broke in alone on Kristan alone and beat him with a nifty deke at 3:54 for the his sixth goal in his 12th Olympic game.

To almost everyone in the building, the rout was on.

Everyone except the Slovenians, that is.

The team didn't panic and managed to slow the Russian attack by the midpoint of the first period. Kristan turned aside a number of high-quality scoring chances to keep the deficit at 2-0 entering the second, and Jeglic scored 1:43 into the period to cut the deficit in half, wiring a wrist shot from the slot that beat Varlamov to the top corner.

The goal clearly had an impact on the high-powered Russians, who suddenly dialed back their aggression and managed three shots on goal through the first half of the second period as a subtle sense of panic began to creep in to the building.

"We had a good start, then [got] a little bit relaxed," Datsyuk said. "[We] started making bad decisions and it cost us."

The growing concern in the arena subsided somewhat when Jeglic took an undisciplined penalty in the offensive zone at 16:20 of the second to send Russia to its third power play of the game.

Slovenia had killed off the first two Russian power plays, but the offensive machine coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov puts out on the man advantage would not be denied a third time. Malkin grabbed the puck behind the net and found Kovalchuk alone in the slot for a blistering wrist shot that beat Kristan high at 17:48 to make it 3-1.

The goal restored a sense of excitement to the crowd, but it lasted all of 64 seconds. That's when Jeglic struck again, getting behind Belov and Nikita Nikitin to score a breakaway goal on Varlamov at 18:52 and allow Slovenia to enter the third period down only 3-2.

"I was really mad at myself because I made a stupid penalty and we know that their power play is top of the world. We were really preparing for them but you can't really prepare," Jeglic said. "It was really nice that I have a breakaway and score."

Nichushkin gave Russia some breathing room at 3:59 of the third when he powered to the net and slid the puck between Kristan's legs before crashing into him. A penalty initially was signaled by the referee, but a video review confirmed the puck entered the net before the Dallas Stars rookie made any contact with the goaltender.

Belov completed the scoring with a blast from the faceoff circle at 7:53 to make it 5-2, bringing the sense of jubilation and pride the game began with back into the arena and allowing the Russian fans to celebrate their team over the final 12 minutes.

But with a Group A showdown with the United States looming Saturday (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC), Bilyaletdinov knows his team will need to make a few adjustments.

"A few things might need changing," he said through an interpreter, "but we'll work on it."  

While he's busy doing that, a proud hockey nation can rejoice. Their national team got the first game of these home Olympics out of the way, and even though the victory wasn't quite as easy as everyone might have expected, it's still a victory.

"It feels great; finally we're here," Ovechkin said. "It's the first game we played and we got the win. That's the most important thing."

GAME SUMMARY

SCORING
SLO 0 2 0 - 2
RUS 2 1 2 - 5

First Period
1. RUS, Ovechkin (Malkin, Semin) 1:17
2. RUS, Malkin (Ovechkin, Medvedev) 3:54
Penalties - Mursak SLO (high-sticking) 5:01, Kopitar SLO (holding) 15:57, Tyutin RUS (delay of game) 18:47

Second Period
3. SLO, Jeglic (Robar) 1:43
4. RUS, Kovalchuk - PPG (Malkin, Radulov) 17:48
5. SLO, Jeglic (Sabolic, Kopitar) 18:52
Penalties - Yemelin RUS (high-sticking) 7:46, Jeglic SLO (tripping) 16:20

Third Period
6. RUS, Nichushkin (Tereshchenko) 3:59
7. RUS, Belov (Nikitin, Tereshchenko) 7:53
Penalties - Anisimov RUS (tripping) 12:34

SHOTS ON GOAL
SLO   4 4 6 - 14
RUS  18 9 8 - 35

Goaltenders (saves-shots against) - SLO: Kristan (L, 30-35); RUS: Varlamov (W, 12-14).

Power plays (goals-chances) - SLO: 0-3; RUS: 1-3

Russia
# Forwards Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
42 A. Anisimov CBJ 6'4" 198 5/24/1988 Yaroslavl, RUS
13 P. Datsyuk DET 5'11" 198 7/20/1978 Sverdlovsk, RUS
71 I. Kovalchuk 6'3" 230 4/15/1983 Tver, RUS
41 N. Kulemin TOR 6'1" 225 7/14/1986 Magnitogorsk, RUS
11 E. Malkin PIT 6'3" 195 7/31/1986 Magnitogorsk, RUS
43 V. Nichushkin DAL 6'4" 205 3/4/1995 Chelyabinsk, RUS
8 A. Ovechkin WSH 6'3" 230 9/17/1985 Moscow, RUS
24 A. Popov 5'10" 181 8/31/1980 Angarsk, RUS
47 A. Radulov 6'1" 200 7/5/1986 Nizhny Tagil, RUS
28 A. Semin CAR 6'2" 209 3/3/1984 Krasnojarsk, RUS
15 A. Svitov 6'4" 234 11/3/1982 Omsk, RUS
91 V. Tarasenko STL 6'0" 219 12/13/1991 Yaroslavl, RUS
27 A. Tereschenko 5'11" 176 12/16/1980 Moznajsk, RUS
10 V. Tikhonov 6'2" 189 5/12/1988 Riga, LAT
# Defense Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
77 A. Belov EDM 6'4" 218 7/29/1986 Ryazan, RUS
26 S. Voynov LAK 6'0" 194 1/15/1990 Chelyabinsk, RUS
74 A. Emelin MTL 6'2" 224" 4/25/1986 Togliatti, RUS
79 A. Markov MTL 6'0" 201 12/20/1978 Voskresensk, RUS
82 Y. Medvedev 6'3" 198 8/27/1982 Chelyabinsk, RUS
6 N. Nikitin CBJ 6'4" 223 6/16/1986 Omsk, RUS
5 I. Nikulin 6'3" 216 3/12/192 Moscow, RUS
51 F. Tyutin CBJ 6'2" 212 7/19/1983 Izhevsk, RUS
# Goalies Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
72 S. Bobrovsky CBJ 6'2" 182 9/20/1988 Novokuznetsk, RUS
1 S. Varlamov COL 6'2" 209 4/27/1988 Samara, RUS
30 A. Eremenko 5'10" 165 4/10/1980 Moscow, RUS
Slovenia
# Forwards Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
71 B. Golicic 6'0" 194 6/12/1989 Kranj, SLO
8 Z. Jeglic 6'1" 176 2/24/1988 Kranj, SLO
11 A. Kopitar LAK 6'3" 224 8/24/1987 Jesenice, SLO
92 A. Kuralt 5'9" 176 10/31/1991 Kranj, SLO
39 J. Mursak 5'11" 187 1/20/1988 Maribor, SLO
16 A. Music 5'9" 181 6/28/1982 Ljubljana, SLO
19 Z. Pance 6'1" 196 1/1/1989 Ljubljana, SLO
9 T. Razingar 6'1" 216 4/25/1979 Jesenice, SLO
12 D. Rodman 6'1" 183 9/10/1983 Jesenice, SLO
22 M. Rodman 6'1" 187 9/25/1981 Jesenice, SLO
55 R. Sabolic 6'0" 198 9/18/1988 Jesenice, SLO
24 R. Ticar 5'11" 181 5/3/1989 Jesenice, SLO
26 J. Urbas 6'3" 216 1/26/1989 Ljubljana, SLO
91 M. Verlic 6'4" 190 8/21/1991 Maribor, SLO
# Defense Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
15 B. Gregorc 6'3" 209 1/18/1990 Jesenice, SLO
86 S. Kovacevic 6'3" 209 2/26/1986 Jesenice, SLO
28 A. Kranjc 6'0" 201 7/29/1981 Jesenice, SLO
17 Z. Pavlin 6'4" 214 4/30/1985 Kranj, SLO
14 M. Podlipnik 5'11" 181 8/9/1992 Jesenice, SLO
7 K. Pretnar 5'11" 181 8/31/1986 Bled, SLO
51 M. Robar 5'10" 190 1/4/1983 Maribor, SLO
4 A. Tavzelj 6'2" 209 3/14/1984 Jesenice, SLO
# Goalies Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
40 L. Gracnar 5'10" 187 10/31/1993 Jesenice, SLO
1 A. Hocevar 6'0" 183 11/21/1984 Ljubljana, SLO
33 R. Kristan 6'0" 187 4/4/1983 Jesenice, SLO