In a day full of expected upsets, Russia and Finland both felt early scares before eventually pulling through with big victories. All the favored teams on Thursday ended up grabbing victories, but teams like Slovenia and Austria looked to prove themselves on the rare occasion that they play with the big dogs.
Finland 8, Austria 4: Finland has been a mainstay on the Olympic podium through the past few tournaments. After grabbing three medals in the past three tournaments, Finland came in as a dark horse in 2014 due to injuries to some of their stars. Their first game against Austria began as a disaster for the blue and white, fresh off of winning the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championships earlier this year. Mere seconds after Tuukka Rask had bailed out his team off a defensive zone turnover, he could do nothing to stop New York Islanders forward Michael Grabner, who gave Austria the 1-0 lead 38 seconds in. Mikael Granlund, who had an incredible Olympic debut for the Finns, goth is team tied up at one just minutes later, only to see Thomas Hundertpfund get another one past Rask. Once again, Finland would tie it up when Sami Lepistö banked one in off the post past Austria’s Bernhard Starkbaum and into the twine. The game fell apart for Austria at that point, as goals from Olli Maatta and Jarkko Immonen just eight seconds apart in the final minute of the period set the pace for the remainder of the game. Goals from Jussi Jokinen, Petri Kontiola and a second from Immonen and Granlund gave Finland eight goals on the night, while Austria put up two more of their own.
USA 7, Slovakia 1: The USA/Slovakia game was expected to be the closest contest of the day, but when the Americans pulled out with a six goal lead, it became the complete opposite. Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson got his team started off right, blasting home a wicked slapshot that beat the glove of Jaroslav Halak. Carlson, competing in his first Olympic tournament, is known for producing during IIHF competition, scoring the game winning goal back in the 2010 World Junior Championships against Canada. 24 seconds into the second, Marian Hossa got the puck to future star Tomas Tatar, who beat Jonathan Quick to tie the game up at one. Unfortunately, that was the only thing the Slovaks would celebrate during their opening game. Three American goals in six minutes by Patrick Kane, Paul Stastny and David Backes allowed the 2010 silver medalists to take the 4-1 victory. A second goal by Stastny at the thirteen minute mark chased Halak from the net, as Peter Budaj was called upon to take over. It wouldn’t get much better for the Montreal Canadiens backup, who allowed two goals int he next three minutes of action. First, James Van Riemsdyk set up his Toronto Maple Leafs linemate Phil Kessel for the 6-1 lead, and then Carlson fed Dustin Brown for the 7-1 advantage. The win was a big one for the Americans, who have never beaten the Slovaks at the Olympic level until today.
Russia 5, Slovenia 2: Slovenia had no real expectation heading into the Olympics. With only one current NHLer to their credit, and coming in as the lowest ranked team in the tournament, Slovenia was just hoping to have fun and maybe scare a couple teams. That’s exactly what they did in their inaugural Olympic contest, giving the hometown Russian team a battle they wont soon forget. Russia would get on the board first just over a minute in when superstar forward Alex Ovechkin ripped the puck so hard, it could have stopped a train. Not too long after, a couple of strong saves by Slovenian puckstopper Robert Kristan would be negated when Evgeni Malkin took a wrist shot that had no reason be stopped, handing the Russians the 2-0 lead. Yes, it was a strong start for the Russians, but Kristan was forced to pull off an incredible performance, just like he does every single time his country competes in the top division of the World Hockey Championships. The first-period shot count overwhelmingly favored Russia at 18-4, and the score could have been much higher if the Russians capitalized on a number of dipsy doodle plays. Early in the second, Ziga Jeglic, a forward with the DEL’s ERC Ingolstadt, recorded Slovenia’s first ever Olympic marker, beating Semyon Varlamov with a nice shot in front of the net. Former New Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk would restore Russia’s lead midway through the period, but Jeglic would answer back barely a minute after the third Russian goal. Just like in the first period, Slovenia would only record four shots on net, but with two goals by Jeglic, they had a shimmer of hope. Unfortunately, goals from Olympic rookies Valeri Nichushkin and Anton Belov early in the third put the game out of reach, but Slovenia’s effort in their first ever game was a memorable one, that’s for sure.
Canada 3, Norway 1: Many people expected the Canadians to skate away with the easy victory. After taking home the commanding 8-0 victory in 2010, Canada came back better than ever. But unfortunately for the red and white, so did Norway, who made the game tough right off the get go for the favored Canadians. The first period ended up being scoreless in what turned out to be a fairly even affair. Norway, who spends a lot of time playing together during numerous international events, placed a lot of pressure on Carey Price, who was forced to make numerous quick stops to keep his opponents off the board. Defenseman Shea Weber finally was able to sever the scoreless game during the second when he blasted the puck from the point, beating Haugen glove side. Weber almost recorded a second one when he hit the post from in close, but the puck didn’t manage to cross over the line.With under five minutes remaining, Canada was able to take a two goal advantage. With Norway still left without a shot during the period, Jamie Benn took a lazerbeam that Haugen wasn’t able to handle. The first two minutes of the third saw tons of action. With Price unable to recover after a poor giveaway behind the Canadian net, Mattias Olimb blasted the point shot past the Canadians goaltender to cut Canada’s lead in half. Shortly after, Drew Doughty managed to deke past three opposing Norwegian players before backhanding it past Haugen to restore Canada’s two goal lead, which would stand for the remainder of the game.
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