Just 24 hours after defeating Russia in a shootout thriller, the USA earned an automatic bid to the Olympic quarterfinals with a 5-1 win over Slovenia. Ryan Miller, the older brother of Wings forward Drew Miller, earned the victory behind 17 saves in his first start of the tournament, and Toronto forward Phil Kessel recorded a natural hat trick to help the Americans finish the preliminary tournament undefeated.
“I thought we had some chances every game and you know we got a couple goals each game and tonight we were fortunate to get a couple more,” Kessel told NBC Sports Net’s Pierre McGuire of his successful line with Joe Pavelski and James van Riemsdyk.
Kessel quickly gave the USA a one-goal lead with his first score just one minute into the contest. Pavelski, who assisted on all three of Kessel’s goals, delivered a nifty pass to his teammate streaking up the ice, and Kessel beat 20-year-old Luka Gracner for his second score of the 2014 Olympics.
The forward gave the USA a 2-0 advantage three minutes later, batting another Pavelski pass out of the air and into the net.
Kessel earned his first career Olympic hat trick, and the first for the U.S. since John LeClair in 2002, with a goal midway through the second period when he cleaned up a rebound off of Toronto teammate James van Riemsdyk’s shot. The 26-year-old leads Team USA with four goals in three games.
“You know the first one was just, Pav’s passed to me wide, made a little move and I buried it five-hold,” Kessel said. “Second one kind of like a 2-on-1 almost. Got a pass out front, a great pass and fortunate enough to get it in. Third one was just a rebound.”
Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored his first career Olympic goal just one minute after Kessel clinched his hat trick, beating Gracner top shelf on a pass from Blake Wheeler.
David Backes gave the Americans a 5-0 lead early in the fourth period, as a backhand pass from Ryan Callahan bounced off Backes’ left skate and was quickly batted in by the Blues forward.
“We got great speed I mean we’re detailed in our structure, we don’t get caught in odd-man looks too often and our special teams have been pretty crucial here too,” McDonagh said.
Marcel Rodman spoiled Miller’s second career Olympic shutout, scoring Slovenia’s lone goal with less than 20 seconds left in the game.
Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard was Team USA’s backup for its final preliminary tournament game.
With wins over Slovakia, Russia and Slovenia, the Americans won Group A, receiving an automatic spot in the tournament’s quarterfinals that begin Wednesday, Feb. 19.
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