SOCHI, Russia — While the United States celebrated goal after goal, Slovakia looked increasingly dejected. No player more so than the Bruins and Slovakia captain Zdeno Chara.
It was a tough night for the defenseman, particularly in the second period when the US scored six straight times en route to a 7-1 victory at Shayba Arena in its Olympic opener. Chara and the Slovakians need to regroup before they face Slovenia Saturday. The US now focuses on a highly anticipated matchup against the Russians later the same day.
“You never really expect to beat a team like that 7-1, and you never do it in a tournament like this,” said US captain Zach Parise. “We just capitalized on our chances. We moved the puck well and skated well, then capitalized on our chances.”
The Slovaks were supposed to put up a tougher challenge, even though they were without potent scorer Marian Gaborik and veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky because of injuries. In each of its two previous Olympic meetings with Slovakia, the US had lost. Also, Slovakia was one period away from a bronze medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games, blowing a lead late in the contest.
“I don’t think the reason we lost the game is because we don’t have Gaborik and Visnovsky,” said Chara. “Obviously, we would be a better team with those guys, but injuries do happen. It’s tough to replace guys of that caliber.
“For sure, it wasn’t because of that. We lost the coverage on people around the net and they scored a lot of goals.”
Given what happened in the second period, “a lot” may be an understatement. After Slovakia’s Tomas Tatar evened the score, 1-1, early in the period, the US offense ratcheted up its production in dramatic fashion. Ryan Kesler started the scoring barrage, which lasted 13 minutes, 51 seconds. Paul Stastny contributed a pair during the flurry, and David Backes, Phil Kessel, and Dustin Brown had a goal apiece.
The tying goal, said Backes, “kind of slapped us in the face, and we said that we have to get going or else this is going to be a high-flying game, and that would weigh in their favor more than ours.
“I think [the win] gets that monkey off a few guys’ backs, the ones who are a little apprehensive or worried or nervous about their first Olympic experience. It gives a little bit of confidence going into the next game because we know we’ve got four lines that can each produce.”
It seemed oddly appropriate that two-time Olympian Stastny should emerge as the Americans’ top producer in this game. His father is former NHL star Peter Stastny, who played for the Czechoslovakian and then Slovakian national teams.
“He told me to have a smile on my face and have fun,” said Stastny. “He realizes when you play in these tournaments, they don’t happen too often. I think all of us are at such a young age that we take everything for granted a little bit, and it’s not until after we’re done we realize how big a stage and how rarely these opportunities come.
“Both my parents are Slovakian, so I know a bunch of the guys out here. This was my first time beating them in three attempts, which is always good.”
Chara was left to assess what went wrong for the Slovaks. For every team in the Olympic tournament filled out with NHL stars, it’s a tough task to quickly build chemistry. Slovakia seemed to struggle with that more than other teams.
“They played well,” said Chara. “You have to give them credit. They deserved to win. But we have to play more like we did in the first and third.”
Chara dismissed any notion that the extra attention focused on him as Slovakia’s flag bearer created a distraction.
“I don’t pay attention to it,” said Chara. “When it comes down to the game, I focus on the game. I do the same things I would do in any city in the NHL or in Boston. So people always take pictures and ask me for autographs. That comes with it. We all do that.
“But when it comes down to the game, my focus is on the game.”Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.