With a 5-1 victory over Slovenia today at Shayba Arena in Sochi, Team USA clinched the top spot in Group A and a bye through the next round of the Olympic hockey tournament.
Facing a surprising Slovenian squad with just one NHL player (Anze Kopitar), the Americans did what they had to do and got out to a quick start in their final preliminary round game. Phil Kessel recorded a natural hat trick, which began with two quick strikes in the first period, to stake the U.S. to two-goal lead and set the tone early on.
Starting in goal was Ryan Miller, the 2010 Olympic MVP for Team USA and a guy who has been the backup to Jonathan Quick during this tournament. He was solid for the Americans and in particular during a second-period push by Slovenia, but Kessel notched his third goal minutes later to boost the lead to 3-0 and Team USA went into cruise control from there.
Ryan McDonagh made it 4-0 and David Backes added a fifth goal for the U.S. in the third period, giving Miller a comfortable lead to bring home for the Group A clincher.
Provided there aren't many drastic changes (and the United States takes the third seed into the quarterfinal round), they will face the winner of Switzerland-Latvia on Wednesday for a chance to advance on to the semifinal.
And now, for the Russians...
A day after a hard-fought shootout loss to Team USA - in one of the more memorable Olympic games in recent memory - Russia had to get right back on the horse for a tough game against a motivated opponent. The Slovaks, battered by injuries prior to the tournament, dropped both of their first two games in disappointing fashion and really wanted to head into the quarters on a positive note.
For much of the game, things were positive. Slovakia defended well, neutralized the Russian attack and survived on the penalty kill.
Sergei Bobrovsky, after a brilliant performance in Saturday's game against Team USA, got the day off in favor of Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov was good when he needed to be, and was spotless in the shootout to lock up a second point for Russia.
- Another game and another steady, two-way effort turned in by Artem Anisimov on the Russians' third line today. He, Tarasenko and Kulemin have had their share of chances in the tournament but haven't been able to cash in. Anisimov has been a go-to penalty killer for Russia, as well.
- Both Blue Jackets defensemen on the Russian roster have been good so far in the tournament, and Tyutin's been gaining responsibility throughout. He and partner Ilya Nikulin are earning the trust of the Russian coaches and have drawn top-four assignments.