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Nichushkin goal helps Russia hold off Slovenia

by Arpon Basu / Washington Capitals

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.

Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin each had a goal and an assist to lead Russia to a 5-2 win Thursday against Slovenia in the opening game for both teams at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Dallas Stars rookie Valeri Nichushkin's goal at 3:59 of the third period gave Russia a 4-2 lead and relieved the tension of 11,653 fans at Bolshoy Ice Dome who feared losing to a country playing its first Olympic game.

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

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 biggest hockey powers.

Slovenia goaltender Robert Kristan played no small part with 30 saves.

The Russians came roaring out of the gate, smothering the Slovenians early and getting a goal from the face of these games 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.

Ovechkin decided to keep the puck, wound up and wired a wrist shot just under the crossbar for his eighth goal in his 13th Olympic game at 1:17 of the first period, and the crowd erupted.

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

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

Everyone except the Slovenians.

The team didn't panic and managed to slow the Russian attack by the midpoint of the first period. Kristan made 16 saves in the period to keep the deficit at 2-0 entering the second.

Jeglic scored 1:43 into the period to cut the Slovenian 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 just 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.

It 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.

After Slovenia had managed to kill off the first two Russian power plays, the offensive machine coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov puts out for the man-advantage would not be denied.

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 a 3-1 lead.

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

Nichushkin gave Russia some breathing room at 3:59 of the third when he powered toward the goal 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 any contact was made with the goaltender.

Belov completed the scoring with a blast from the faceoff circle at 7:53 to make it 5-2.

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