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Jamie Benn, Valeri Nichushkin Score in Olympic Debuts

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars Jamie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin both scored goals in their Olympic debuts Thursday and both were winners as Canada and Russia opened the tournament with victories. Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen was the backup goaltender in Finland’s win over Austria, and Team USA rolled over Slovakia in its first game of the tournament.

Canada 3, Norway 1

Jamie Benn didn’t see a lot of ice time in Thursday’s game but he had a big impact, playing a role in Canada’s first goal and then scoring the second one, which turned out to be the game-winner, in a 3-1 victory over Norway in Group B.

Canada got off to a sluggish start in the game, but scored twice in the second period to take a 2-0 lead. Benn factored in the first goal, drawing a delayed penalty on Norway, and then seconds later – with goaltender Carey Price out of the net and an extra attacker on the ice - Shea Weber scored on a blast from the point at 6:20 of the second period to break a scoreless tie.

Benn made it a 2-0 game, taking a pass from Patrice Bergeron and roofing a shot from the left circle to give Canada a 2-0 lead at 15:19 of the second.

“Pretty cool,” Benn told CBC on the experience of scoring his first goal at the Olympics.

The Stars captain played on Canada’s fourth line, seeing time with Bergeron, John Tavares and Martin St. Louis in the game. He ended up with the one goal, three shots and a plus-one rating in 8:52 of ice time. He also saw some penalty killing duty.

Drew Doughty also scored for Canada. Carey Price stopped 19 of 20 shots. Patrick Thorensen scored the lone goal for Norway, which received a solid 35-save effort from goaltender Lars Haugen.

Russia 5, Slovenia 2

The word from the Russian hockey team was that Valeri Nichushkin wouldn’t play in the Olympic opener on Thursday, but he did. And he scored. Nichushkin was one of five Russian players who tallied in a 5-2 victory over Slovenia in Group A play.

Nichushkin’s goal was a big one. He scored at 3:59 of the third period, driving the net off the rush and slipping the puck past Slovenia’s goaltender, Robert Kristan, to extend Russia’s lead to 4-2 over the scrappy Slovenian team. Defenseman Anton Belov scored less than four minutes later to give Russia a commanding 5-2 lead that would stand for the rest of the game.

The 18-year-old Nichushkin logged 10:29 of ice time, had three shots on goal and was even in his Olympic debut.

“I cannot say that I was nervous before the game or during it,” Nichushkin told Russian media. “It’s just when you’ve played the whole season in another league with a different coach, it affects you at first. Hopefully the next match everything will change, and I finally get used to the system.”

Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Ilya Kovalchuk also scored for Russia. Semyon Varlamov stopped 12 of 14 shots in goal. Ziga Jeglic scored both goals for Slovenia.

Finland 8, Austria 4

Kari Lehtonen served as the backup goaltender in Finland’s 8-4 win over Austria in Group B play. Minnesota Wild forward Mikael Granlund had two goals and one assist for Finland. Former Dallas Star Jussi Jokinen chipped in with one goal and one assist for the Finns, who overcame 1-0 and 2-1 deficits in the game. Tuukka Rask got the start in goal for Finland and stopped 16 of 20 shots. Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders scored three goals for Austria.

USA 7, Slovakia 1

Paul Stastny scored two goals and Phil Kessel chipped in with one goal and two assists to help lead the United States to a 7-1 rout of Slovakia in Group A. The U.S. led 1-0 after one period and after Slovakia’s Tomas Tatar tied the game 24 seconds into the second, the Americans then scored six times over the rest to the period to blow the game open. John Carlson, Ryan Kesler, David Backes and Dustin Brown also scored goals for Team USA. Jonathan Quick stopped 22 of 23 shots.

Notes: Lehtonen expected to start Friday

*Kari Lehtonen is expected to start in net Friday when Finland plays Norway. It will be Lehtonen’s Olympic debut.

*Valeri Nichushkin started Thursday’s game on a line with Alexei Tereshenko and Alexander Popov, who both play in the KHL. The Stars selected Tereshenko in the 2000 NHL draft, but the Russian forward never came to North America. Nichushkin also saw some time on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk in the third period.

*Nichushkin seemed confused by reports that he would be a scratch for Thursday’s game against Slovenia.

“Who told you that?” Nichushkin said to Russian media after Thursday’s game. “I have on a sheet in the locker room on the first day it was written that I was on a line with Popov and Tereshenko.”

*Jamie Benn is one of seven NHL captains playing on Team Canada.

Thursday’s results

Finland 8, Austria 4
Russia 5, Slovenia 2
USA 7, Slovakia 1
Canada 3, Norway 1

Friday’s games

Czech Republic vs. Latvia, 2:00 a.m., MSNBC
Sweden vs. Switzerland, 6:30 a.m., NBC Sports Network
Canada vs. Austria, 11:00 a.m., USA Network
Norway vs. Finland, 11:00 a.m., MSNBC

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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