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Golden opportunity at stake as Slovenia faces Austria

by Brian Hunter


When: Tuesday, 3 a.m. ET (NBCSN, SNET)

Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome

What's at stake: Neither country was expected to compete for a medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but at the end of Tuesday either Slovenia or Austria will have advanced to within one upset victory of a guaranteed chance at one.

Austria: There are dozens of NHL stars in Sochi who are probably better known than New York Islanders forward Michael Grabner, but after three games in group play there's no one with more goals. Grabner recorded a hat trick in Austria's loss to Finland to open the tournament, and after a shutout defeat to Canada he came back with two more goals to spark a critical 3-1 win against Norway on Sunday. That boosted Austria into the ninth seed in the tournament. Grabner's five goals are one more than Phil Kessel of the United States and Drew Doughty of Canada.

"It's nice to score goals, but I can't do it without my linemates," Grabner, who also set up a goal by the Philadelphia Flyers' Michael Raffl, told the IIHF website. "They're doing a great job of finding me. I'm just trying to get open. Our line has been creating a lot of offense."

Grabner's teammate with the Islanders, Thomas Vanek, was his other linemate against Norway. Mathias Lange started and made 34 saves after Bernhard Starkbaum was pulled after two periods in the Canada game.

Slovenia: The inaugural Olympic journey for Slovenia has already been an unquestionable success, but that doesn't mean Matjaz Kopitar's team is patting itself on the backs and resting on its laurels. Slovenia, which upset Slovakia in Group A play and played competently in losses to Russia and the United States, has a golden opportunity to advance into the quarterfinals and make itself the Cinderella story of the tournament.

Defenseman Sabahudin Kovacevic will be eligible to return after serving a one-game suspension against the U.S. for an elbowing infraction against Florida Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky in the Slovakia game. The greater question, though, is the status of Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar, the son of Matjaz and the lone NHL player on the roster. He left in the second period Sunday due to a stomach ailment. Kopitar, who scored the third goal in the win against Slovakia, brings a presence to the team that would be near impossible to replace.

"We'll see," Matjaz Kopitar told Sunday of his son's status. "They're going to go with the doctors now to the hospital and they're going to check his blood to see what is going on. Hopefully he's going to be ready for Game 4 which is very important for us. If we want to continue in the tournament we need to win that one. We need every single player because we don't have depth."

What's next: The winner of this game won't have much time for celebration before it has to face the top seed in the tournament, Group C winner Sweden, in a quarterfinal Wednesday.

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