SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Alex Ovechkin and the Russians got off to a breathtaking start against Slovenia, then relaxed. The result was a closer-than-expected win over a country playing hockey in the Olympics for the first time.
The Russians' jaw-dropping skills, though, were still enough to beat Slovenia 5-2.
"We started well, got the lead and then we stopped playing," Ovechkin said.
The surprising result led one Russian reporter to tell coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov it would be a "death sentence," to leave goaltender Semyon Varlamov in net against the U.S. on Saturday.
Yes, they're taking hockey pretty seriously here — perhaps as much as Canada did during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Varlamov, who plays for the Colorado Avalanche, gave up two goals on just 14 shots and needed to kick his right leg out to deny Anze Kopitar when the game was still in doubt.
The Russians still had enough offense to overcome Varlamov's performance.
Ovechkin scored 1:17 after the puck dropped with a wrist shot that made the crowd roar. He made the flag-waving fans gasp 2:37 later with a drop pass to set up Evgeni Malkin's goal to give Russia a 2-0 lead.
"We were a little bit in awe at the start," said Slovenia's only NHL player, Anze Kopitar, who plays for the Los Angeles Kings. "Guys like Malkin and Ovechkin can make you pay pretty quick."
The Slovenians were respectable for two-plus periods. Ziga Jeglic had two goals in the second period — one before Malkin scored and one after — to pull his team within a goal.
"We said in our locker room, 'We have nothing to lose,'" Jeglic recalled. "We played a little better and Russia was a little weaker. It's too bad in the end that we didn't surprise them."
Russia created a cushion in the first half of the third period when Valeri Nichushkin and Anton Belov scored.
Moments after the game was over, the team raised their sticks to a standing ovation from the more than 11,000 fans in the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
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