COLOGNE, Germany - Alexander Ovechkin scored the deciding goal Sunday to give two-time defending champion Russia a 3-1 victory over Slovakia at the ice hockey world championship.
The Russians started Group A action in Cologne with Maxim Afinogenov opening the scoring after nearly 15 minutes on an assist from Viktor Kozlov. Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals star, made it 2-0 midway through the second period.
Ivan Majesky cut the deficit in half for Slovakia four minutes into the final period. But Kozlov hit an empty-net goal with 54 seconds left, and Vasili Koshechkin saved 32 of 33 shots to give Russia three points after one round of games.
"It was a big day for Russia, a big win, so we had a lot of emotion in the game," said Afinogenov.
Russia comes into the worlds with a lot of pressure having won the last two tournaments as well as having a number of NHL stars on the team. They also want to make good after losing to eventual gold medallists Canada in the quarter-finals of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"Yes, Vancouver was in the back of our mind and now to win, we can get that off our shoulders," said Kozlov, who was on the Russia team that took sixth place in February.
Earlier in Group A, Belarus fell behind Kazakhstan 2-0 after 30 minutes. But Dmitri Meleshko and Alexei Kalyuzhny each picked up a goal and an assist as Belarus stormed back with five unanswered goals for a 5-2 victory.
While Ovechkin was setting his mark on Group A, former NHL legend Jaromir Jagr set up three goals as the Czech Republic cruised past France 6-2 on Sunday in their opening game in Group C in Mannheim.
"For the first game of the tournament we played just like we wanted to," said defenceman Michal Rozsival, who is hoping to guide the Czechs to their first worlds title since 2005. "We skated, we got a goal in the first five minutes, and we settled in and played a solid game."
The Czechs jumped ahead after just 44 seconds with Jagr setting up Petr Hubacek's opener. Jiri Novotny scored a power-play goal and the Czechs led 2-0 less than 12 minutes into the game in Mannheim.
Petr Gregorek and Karel Rachunek struck within two minutes early in the second period to push the advantage to 4-0. And Lukas Kaspar made it 5-0 for the Czechs six minutes into the final period with Novotny assisting for a second time in addition to his goal.
France pulled back two goals in two minutes with Yorick Treille and Laurent Meunier hitting to trim the deficit to 5-2.
But Jagr set up Miroslav Blatak for a power-play goal with 33 seconds to play to finish off the French.
The other Group C game saw Sweden pull away from Norway 5-2 with Mattias Weinhandl collecting a hat-trick including two goals in the third period.
Weinhandl and Erik Karlsson gave the eight-time world champion Sweden a 2-0 lead after just 13 minutes of action.
But Patrick Thoresen converted a power-play goal 20 seconds into the second period and Henrik Solberg made it 2-2 five minutes into the final stanza.
Weinhandl, however, answered two minutes later as Sweden regained the lead. And Magnus Paajarvi Svensson and Weinhandl struck in the final six minutes.
Play continues on Monday as United States looks to rebound from its loss against Germany when it takes on Denmark in Cologne in Group D. The second match has Germany facing Finland.
In Group B in Mannheim, Canada takes on Latvia and Switzerland battles Italy.