SOCHI, Russia » With just one game to prepare for its Olympic showdown with Russia, the United States men’s hockey team decided to cram an entire tournament’s worth of hard work and highlights into one spectacular opener.
Paul Stastny scored twice during a six-goal barrage in the second period, and the Americans got off to a roaring start in Sochi with a 7-1 victory over Slovakia in preliminary-round play Thursday.
Ryan Kesler, David Backes, Phil Kessel and Dustin Brown also scored as the U.S. battered Slovakia for six consecutive goals in a 13:51 span, turning what was expected to be a tough matchup into a laugher with their relentless offense.
"I guess you never really expect to beat a team like that 7-1, and you never do it in a tournament like this," captain Zach Parise said. "We just capitalized on the chances we had, moved the puck well and used our speed."
Although their goal celebrations declined from elation to excitement to sheepishness while the score skyrocketed, the Americans answered any lingering questions about their offensive abilities and their aptitude on the big Olympic ice by decimating a Slovak roster studded with NHL players.
"You have to do a lot of skating out there on the big ice, but I think we handled it all right," said Kessel, who led the U.S. with two goals and an assist.
Jonathan Quick made 22 saves in his Olympic debut for the U.S., which hopes to improve on its silver-medal finish in Vancouver despite a roster that isn’t thought to have the offensive power of Canada, Russia or Sweden.
In their only warmup for Saturday’s game against Alex Ovechkin and the host Russians, the Americans had more than enough potency to leave Slovakia’s two goalies battered.
"For the first time on the big ice for most of us, I thought we did pretty well," Stastny said. "Our strengths are our puck possession and our speed, and we were really able to use both of them. All four lines just kind of clicked, and so did our D-men."
Justyna Kowalczyk, skiing with a fractured foot, led virtually all the way, finishing in 28 minutes, 17.8 seconds to win the women’s 10-kilometer classical race, beating Charlotte Kalla of Sweden by 18.4 seconds. Therese Johaug of Norway took bronze, 28.3 seconds behind.
SHORT TRACK SPEEDSKATING
Li Jianrou’s win in the 500 keeps the Olympic title with China. Injured teammate Wang Meng couldn’t defend the title she has won at every Winter Games since 2002. Arianna Fontana of Italy took the silver and Park Seung-hi of South Korea earned the bronze. Elise Christie of Britain caused the first crash of the wild final and was disqualified.
In the women’s 1000-meter race, Zhang Hong pulled off a stunning victory to give China its first gold ever in Olympic speedskating. Her time of 1 minute, 14.02 seconds, broke the track record and just missed the Olympic mark set by Chris Witty at the 2002 Games. Ireen Wust took the silver and Margo Boer the bronze, giving the Dutch a dozen speedskating medals.
Martin Fourcade of France earned his second gold of the Sochi Games with a victory in the men’s 20-kilometer individual race. Fourcade, who won the 12.5K pursuit on Monday, finished 12.2 seconds ahead of silver medalist Erik Lesser of Germany. Yevgeny Garanichev of Russia won the bronze.
Germany scored a golden sweep of all four luge events by winning the inaugural team relay. Felix Loch, Natalie Geisenberger and the doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt finished their runs in 2 minutes, 45.649 seconds, beating Russia for the title by 1.030 seconds. Latvia won the bronze.
Gold medal favorites Canada, Sweden and Britain posted wins in the men’s curling tournament, keeping the pressure on undefeated China, which had a bye Thursday. In the women’s competition, Canada swept away its fifth straight opponent, while Sweden knocked Switzerland from the ranks of the undefeated. Britain revived its chances of making the semifinals with a win over China.
Lizzy Yarnold of Britain and Noelle Pinkus-Pace grabbed the top two spots midway through the women’s skeleton competition. The final two runs for the gold are Friday.