Russia’s quest to grab their second consecutive gold continued positively on Sunday, taking down Slovenia 5-3 to start off a long day of hockey in the Czech Republic.
The Russians were off to a slow start in comparison to their first game, scoring their first two goals today 36 seconds apart instead of 19 seconds apart like on Friday. Regardless, both goals didn’t look so great for 21-year-old Luka Gracnar. First, Ilya Kovalchuk took a pass from Evgeni Dadonov from the Russian zone and came in with a good burst of speed, but somehow it would only take a weak knuckle puck from just outside the hash marks to beat Gracnar between the wickets for the 1-0 lead.
Just over a half a minute later, a scramble in front saw the Russians extending their lead almost instantly. Forward Artemiy Panarin found the bouncing puck on the doorstep after Slovenian defenseman Klemen Pretnar tried kicking the puck out of the crease. Instead, Panarin would knock the puck over Gracnar, only to have Nikolai Kulemin make a diving play to tip the puck pass the goal line for the 2-0 lead.
With just over a minute remaining in the period, the Russians would add to their lead. Panarin, a very solid play-maker, would find Dadonov all alone in front of the net, making a quick pass to the former NHL prospect who capitalized on the one-timer on the power-play to finish off the frame with the 3-0 lead.
Just over a minute after Artem Anisimov was unable to score on the breakaway to start the second period, the Slovenians finally found a way to beat Konstantin Barulin. Of course, the offense was going to come from Mr. Slovenia, Anze Kopitar, who took an absolute blast that Barulin wasn’t able to get a good handle on, making it 3-1 Russia.
With just nine minutes off the clock in the second, the Russians continued their dominant tournament by restoring their three goal lead. Panarin, a newly signed prospect with the Chicago Blackhawks organization, rushed into the offensive zone and left just enough time for Vadim Shipachyov to get in front of the net and receive the one-timer, sending a quick shot past Gracnar to make it 4-1 Russia.
Slovenia wasn’t interested in just going away that easy. With 5:30 left in the period, Ziga Prance picked up the puck and rushed into the Russian zone, scoring an identical slap shot past Barulin’s glove that Kopitar was able to obtain earlier in the period.
Slovenia struggled to cut the lead to just one, and their inability to really excel offensively resulted in Dadonov getting his fourth point of the night. An underrated top scoring option for the Russians, Dadonov walked in and scored a floater from just outside the right faceoff circle, adding another goal to the pile that Gracnar would probably want back.
With five minutes left, the Slovenians kept themselves in the game with a late one. Robert Sabolic had been buzzing around the net all game long for his country, and after some passing by Rok Ticar and Žiga Jeglič in front saw the puck land right in front of Sabolic, flipping it over Barulin’s glove to make it 5-3. The goal wouldn’t do much to change the course of the game, however, as Russia would stay alive to win the game by a score of 5-3.
Russia’s next game will be their biggest battle to date when they take on the undefeated Americans at 10:15am EST on Monday. Slovenia will continue their search for their first point when they face Slovakia, a team that managed to take a 4-3 victory in the shootout against Denmark on Saturday.
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