On a night when the Russian offense had trouble finding the back of the net, goaltender Semyon Varlamov stood tall in the crease and saved the game for the host country.
Varlamov didn't allow any pucks to get past him as he made 27 saves through overtime and stopped two more in a shootout Sunday to lead Russia to a 1-0 win over Slovakia at Bolshoy Ice Dome. It was the Colorado Avalanche goalie's second win of the tournament and first Olympic shutout.
Team Russia is known for their dynamic scorers with Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin leading its offensive onslaught, but Slovakia played strong defensively and didn't give the Russians many opportunities until the final 20 minutes.
Russia came to life in the third period as it outshot Slovakia 15-2 and then 5-3 in overtime, but it couldn't get any shots past goalie Jan Laco. The Russians ended the game with a 37-27 shot advantage.
"Of course we're not happy about this game," Russia captain Pavel Datsyuk said afterward in Russian. "We wanted to win it in regular time, not to go into shootouts or cause heart attacks."
After falling to the United States in an eight-round shootout 24 hours earlier, Sunday's tiebreaker was over quickly. Varlamov made two right-pad saves and Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov scored for Russia to end the best-of-three shootout after two frames.
Both of Varlamov's stops in the shootout were spectacular. His first against Michal Handzus was a kick save in which he just got enough of the puck to deflect it wide, while his second was a pad stop in which he stretched out his right leg to deny Tomas Tatar's chance.
"The most important thing for me, and for the whole team, was to win," Varlamov said to the IIHF website after the game. "I think the team played pretty well. We had a huge amount of great chances, but just couldn't capitalize on them."
Slovakia had a solid start as they came out firing, outshooting the Russians 9-5 in the first period and forcing Varlamov to stop several shots from point-blank range in the first 10 minutes. The Slovakians held a 13-11 shot advantage after the second period and almost took the lead twice with less than three minutes to go in the middle stanza.
Milan Bartovic had a breakaway opportunity to try and unknot the game at 0-0, but Varlamov stopped his first shot with a right-pad save and then did it again on the Slovakian's second attempt after the puck rebounded out to him.
Varlamov's saves helped give Russia a little momentum, which it carried for the rest of the contest.
The shootout victory gives Russia a total of six points after group play and places the team fifth in the standings after the goal-differential tiebreaker, one place out of the automatic bids to the Olympic quarterfinals.
Team Russia will play Norway in a qualification playoff game on Tuesday and, if it wins, would then play Finland in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
While playing in the qualification round means Russia will have to play an extra game to try and capture the gold medal that the team wants to win on its home soil, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Canada, the host in 2010, had to play in the qualification playoffs at the Vancouver Olympics and went on to win the championship.
"It does not matter if we will have to play an extra match," Varlamov said to NHL.com. "The end result is that we will have to play against a good team eventually, and that is what we are focusing on."