USA, Russia meet in Group A showdown
Paul Stastny and Semyon Varlamov meet in first Avs intrasquad matchup
UNITED STATES vs. RUSSIA
When: Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN, CBC)
Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome
What's at stake: The winner of this game likely will finish first in Group A and earn a bye into the quarterfinals. The loser will need a decisive victory in its final preliminary-round game to have a chance at the bye given to the best of the second-place finishers.
United States: No NHL team has scored six goals in a period this season, but the United States did in its opener against Slovakia, turning a 1-1 tie into a 7-1 rout and giving the Americans their first Olympic win against the Slovaks in three tries.
That was a warm-up act for perhaps the biggest showdown in the preliminary round. The Russians and Americans haven't played in the Olympics since Russia won 5-4 at the 2006 Turin Games. The U.S. hasn't beaten Russia since a 3-2 win in the semifinals of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
"We know that this is their home country," St. Louis Blues forward David Backes said. "They’ve been getting a lot of attention, they've got a lot of firepower, and there will be no need for motivation on their side. We'll need to match that."
Russia: Its first Olympic hockey game on home soil, against newcomer Slovenia, wound up being a lot closer than anyone could have expected. Leading 3-2 after two periods, goals by Valeri Nichushkin and Anton Belov in the third period locked up a 5-2 win, albeit one that wasn't as impressive as expected.
Not that Ovechkin was ready to throw it back.
"It feels great; finally we're here," the Washington Capitals star said. "It's the first game we played and we got the win. That's the most important thing."
Beating an Olympic newbie is one thing; beating the 2010 silver medalists is another. The Russians know they’ll have to play a more complete game to slow the Americans.
"A few things might need changing," coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said through an interpreter, "but we'll work on it."
What's next: Each team finishes preliminary-round play Sunday. The United States takes on Slovenia (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) at the same time Russia faces Slovakia (7:30 a.m. ET, USA).