Entering The Knockout Rounds
For the second straight Olympics, Team USA has won its first three games, beating Slovakia 7-1 on Thursday, outlasting Russia in dramatic fashion with a 3-2 shootout win on Saturday and finishing it off on Sunday with a 5-1 win over Slovenia.
Here is Sochi, they've outscored their opponents 15-4 in those games. In Sunday's win over Slovenia, Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel was the star with a hat trick, the first two goals coming in the opening 4:33 of the game to set the tone. Any thought of a letdown after the dramatic shootout win against Russia was gone in a hurry. Sabres netminder Ryan Miller got the call in net and had his shutout spoiled by a Slovenian goal in the final minute.
It's now on to the qualification and then quarterfinal rounds, where the real pressure starts. The losers go home, winners of the quarterfinals go to the semis to play for a shot at gold. By winning its group, the USA has earned a bye into the quarters which allows the team two days off. They'll also be fresh, playing their opponent on the second of back-to-back days.
Everything here in Russia has been top notch. The accommodations, transportation, food and security has been as good as any of the other three Olympics I've been to. The best part for me though is that the hockey action now picks up in a big way, although even with medals on the line it will be tough to top the thrilling 8-round shootout between the US and Russia on Saturday as TJ Oshie and Jonathan Quick helped the US earn the extra point and the Group.
If there was an example of why the NHL should continue to send its players to the Olympics every four years, that game was it. The buzz created in America by that game was off the charts and many people who never watch hockey were watching and listening to that game.
Dramatic sporting events create fans. That game was as dramatic as they come.