SOCHI, Russia -- With just one game to
prepare for its Olympic showdown with Russia, the United States men's hockey
team decided to cram an entire tournament's worth of hard work and highlights
into one spectacular opener.
Ryan Kesler, David Backes, Phil Kessel and Dustin Brown also scored as the U.S. battered Slovakia for six consecutive goals in a 13:51 span, turning what was expected to be a tough matchup into a laugher with their relentless offense.
"I guess you never really expect to beat a team like that 7-1, and you never do it in a tournament like this," captain Zach Parise said. "We just capitalized on the chances we had, moved the puck well and used our speed."
Although their goal celebrations declined from elation to excitement to sheepishness while the score skyrocketed, the Americans answered any lingering questions about their offensive abilities and their aptitude on the big Olympic ice by decimating a Slovak roster studded with NHL players.
"You have to do a lot of skating
out there on the big ice, but I think we handled it all right," said
Kessel, who led the U.S. with two goals and an assist.
In their only warmup for Saturday's game against Alex Ovechkin and the host Russians, the Americans had more than enough potency to leave Slovakia's two goalies battered. CBSSports.com hockey writer Brian Stubits says it's almost certain that the winner of the U.S.-Russia game will win the group barring anything unforeseen in the third game of group play.
"It's going to be an incredible challenge for the U.S. but they'll be brimming with confidence after the way they dominated Slovakia," Stubits writes. "The crowd is going to be loud and it won't be on America's side. It will be the game of the round-robin stage in these Olympics."
Jaroslav Halak stopped 20 shots before
getting pulled when Stastny tipped home Kevin Shattenkirk's pass to put the
Americans up 5-1 with their fourth goal in 12:04. Peter Budaj replaced Halak,
but Kessel and Brown piled on goals in the next 1:47.
Slovakia's last two Olympic appearances have been humiliations: The Slovaks blew a third-period lead and lost to Finland in the bronze medal game in Vancouver, depriving them of their nation's first Olympic hockey medals.
"We're going to be better," said Tatar, the Detroit Red Wings' young forward. "We had a solid first period and then tied it. We've just got to play way better in our defensive zone. I think we're going to be ready to play the next game. We have a lot of talent in our locker room, and we're going to sort it out."
John Carlson opened the scoring for the U.S. in the first period, and Tatar tied it with a nasty wrist shot in the opening minute of the second. Kesler put the Americans back ahead 1:02 later with a one-timer through Brown's screen, and Stastny scored 1:06 later on a fat rebound of Max Pacioretty's shot.
The hits just kept coming, and the U.S. didn't let up until Brown redirected Carlson's pass to make it 7-1, sending the once-boisterous Slovak crowd into frustrated silence at Shayba Arena.
Patrick Kane, T.J. Oshie and James van Riemsdyk added two assists apiece, with the speedy Kane looking particularly comfortable on the wide Olympic ice.
The U.S. had lost to Slovakia in each of the teams' two previous Olympic meetings, giving the game special meaning to Stastny. The two-time U.S. Olympian has a famous Slovak father: Hall of Famer Peter Stastny played extensively for the Czechoslovakian and Slovak national teams alongside his lengthy NHL career.
"It was good to finally get it on the third try," Stastny said.
The Americans' scoring outburst made their goaltending situation seem secondary for a day, but Quick still handled the Slovaks' chances well. U.S. coach Dan Bylsma waited until Wednesday to choose Quick for the first start over Ryan Miller, who backstopped the Americans to silver medals in Vancouver while winning the tournament MVP award.
Quick, who didn't get in a game in Vancouver, emerged as one of the world's top goalies while leading Los Angeles to a Stanley Cup championship in 2012, but he missed seven weeks of the Kings' current season with a groin injury.