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Russia looks for rebound effort against Slovakia

by Brian Hunter


When: Sunday, 7:30 a.m. ET (USA, SNET)

Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome

What's at stake: Despite a heartbreaking 3-2 shootout loss to the United States on Saturday, there's still the possibility of the hosts for the 2014 Sochi Olympics finishing atop Group A if they win and get some help from neophyte Slovenia in its game against the Americans, which also faces off at 7:30 a.m. (NBCSN) over at Shayba Arena. As for Slovakia, it's trying to avoid going winless in group play and a more imposing matchup in the playoff qualification round.

Russia: The big question waiting to be answered in the first period Sunday is how Russia will start out after coming away with just one point from a game against the U.S. that was the best in the tournament to this point. A determined group of Russians could make it a long day for the Slovaks; on the flip side, if things don't go their way early, frustrations could set in quick.

Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk almost carried the country on his shoulders Saturday. He opened the scoring on a breakaway goal in the second period, forced overtime with a power-play goal in the third and also had one of Russia's three goals in the shootout. But Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky allowed four goals on eight shots in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.

Russia got a bad break when what looked like the go-ahead goal by Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin was disallowed because the U.S. net had come slightly off its mooring. It also had to deal with undisciplined play from forward Alexander Radulov, whose two penalties both led to U.S. goals.

"Play the same game and we'll win," Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin said of Russia's chances Sunday. "It was a good game, very interesting, the best game we played so far. We showed great hockey."

Russia announced early Sunday that Semyon Varlamov will be back in goal against Slovakia. The Colorado Avalanche goalie stopped 12 of 14 shots in a 5-2 win against Slovenia on Thursday before being benched in favor of Bobrovsky for the U.S. game.

Slovakia: There hasn't been a whole lot of positive to take out of Slovakia's two defeats in this tournament. After pulling into a 1-1 tie early in the second period of their opener against the U.S., the Slovaks gave up six unanswered goals and were blown out. Redemption was expected on Saturday, but instead Slovenia defeated them 3-1 for the country's first Olympic win in just its second game.

The lack of offense to this point for Slovakia has been troubling. Red Wings forwards Tomas Totar and Tomas Jurco have their only goals in the tournament, and Jurco's came in the closing seconds against Slovenia with the game already out of reach. St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak was much better Saturday after getting pulled from the U.S. game, but received no support. Florida Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky left the game in the first period with an apparent upper-body injury and did not return.

"We will go away and figure out what we need to do and hopefully tomorrow we will be better against Russia," Tatar told the IIHF website after the game.

What's next: Russia doesn't necessarily have to win Group A to get a bye into the quarterfinals; the top second-place finisher from the three groups advances automatically as well. If that doesn't happen, however, Russia will join Slovakia playing a game Tuesday to try to advance.

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