– Perhaps somebody forgot to inform the Slovaks that they had drawn the short straw in this 2010 Olympic hockey tournament. Or maybe they figured, having confounded the skeptics and the schedule-maker four years ago by going undefeated in pool play in Torino, they simply were being perfectly set up to shock the hockey world yet again.
Whatever the case, the little country that supposedly couldn't somehow found a way Thursday night at Canada Hockey Place. It took a third-period comeback. And it took seven rounds of a shootout -- three of which saw Alex Ovechkin shoot against them.
But at the end of a second straight long, withering night, it was the Slovaks who were still standing -- 2-1 victors over the powerhouse from Russia. And now, a talent-laden Group B that seemingly was set up for a Russia-Czech Republic showdown to decide first place on Rivalry Sunday is suddenly a three-horse race in which nobody can be ruled out.
"We still have a pretty good chance to be No. 1 in our group," Ovechkin said after a game in which he was a bodychecking dynamo but held off the scoresheet other than going 1-for-3 in his shootout attempts.
Ovechkin is correct -- a Russian victory in regulation Sunday would give it the Group B title regardless of the results of the Czech-Latvia game Friday night or the Slovakia-Latvia game Saturday. However, whatever veneer of invincibility the Russians brought into this tournament is now gone.
Then again, so is the notion that the Slovaks were doomed by coming in with a banged-up Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa and having to open the tournament by playing back-to-back games against the Czech Republic and Russia.
"It's a huge win for us," said Slovakia captain Zdeno Chara, who waged a night-long physical war with Ovechkin. "It's a tough schedule. When you play back to back against such great teams as the Czechs and Russia, it's always exhausting. You're playing within 24 hours in really hot conditions. The ice is probably not the greatest because there have been two or three games going on it. So it's tough.
"But we found a way to win a game."
They found a way by riding superb goaltending from the Montreal Canadiens' Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 36 of 37 Russian shots during the 60 minutes of regulation and the five of overtime, and then six of the seven he faced in the shootout from the likes of Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin.
Ovechkin, in fact, shot three times -- scoring on his first -- because IIHF rules allow the same shooter to go as often as the coach desires after the first three shooters have taken their turns.
"It was crazy because, in NHL, they can only go once and here they keep going with same guy after the first three shooters," Halak said. "It was crazy to see. But lucky for us, we got the (victory)."
0 0 1 0 1 - 2
0 1 0 0 0 - 1
Bench, SVK (too many players - served by Marcel Hossa) 1:34, Radulov RUS (tripping) 17:34.
1. RUS, Morozov (Markov, Zinoviev)
Kopecky SVK (hooking) 3:20, Visnovsky SVK (cross checking) 13:59, Bench RUS (too many men served by M Hossa) 18:44, Ovechkin RUS (slashing) 19:58.
2. SVK, Marian Hossa (Demitra, Marcel Hossa) 9:48
Tyutin RUS (hooking) :15, Radivojevic SVK (hooking) 11:22.
Game Winning Shots
SVK, Stumpel on Bryzgalov - Goal
RUS, Morozov on Halak - Save
SVK, Demitra on Bryzgalov - Save
RUS, Ovechkin on Halak - Goal
SVK, Marian Hossa on Bryzgalov - Save
RUS, Datsyuk on Halak - Save
RUS, Ovechkin on Bryzgalov - Save
SVK, Stumpel on Halak - Save
RUS, Kovalchuk on Halak - Save
SVK, Handzus on Bryzgalov - Save
RUS, Ovechkin on Halak - Save
SVK, Gaborik on Bryzgalov - Save
RUS, Malkin on Halak - Save
SVK, Demitra on Bryzgalov - Goal
SHOTS ON GOAL
10 5 14 3 - 33
8 16 10 3 - 37
(goals-shots against) - SVK: Halak (W, 1-36); RUS: Bryzgalov (L, 2-33).
(goals-chances) - SVK: 0-3; RUS: 0-5.