SOCHI, Russia — The U.S. set itself up to earn a pass into the men’s hockey quarterfinals at the Olympics with a heart-pounding 3-2 shootout victory against Russia on Saturday.
If the Americans (2-0) don’t follow that up with a win against scrappy Slovenia (1-1) on Sunday, they might be at risk of entering the qualification round just to be among the final eight in the Sochi Games.
“While it’s really a big win, we have to be ready for Slovenia,” U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said. “Otherwise, this game doesn’t put us in good sted for the tournament.”
Bylsma would not say soon after Saturday’s game if he was sticking with goaltender Jonathan Quick or giving him a break to put Ryan Miller in net. At the 2010 Olympics, the U.S. won silver in large part because Miller was spectacular at stopping shots.
The most evenly matched game on Sunday seems to be the last one, an intriguing matchup of 2-0 teams: Canada and Finland.
The winner will get an automatic spot in the quarterfinals, which begin Wednesday. The loser might get a wild-card berth to join the final eight.
Russia (1-1) will get a chance to bounce back from its heartbreaking loss against the most disappointing hockey team so far. The Slovaks lost 3-1 to Slovenia — in its first Olympic hockey tournament — after the U.S. routed them 7-1.
Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov acknowledged he might bench one of his stars, Alex Radulov, on Sunday.
“Unfortunately, he was not really living up to our expectations,” he said.
Two teams will get to have success, perhaps for the only time at the Sochi Games, when winless Austria and Norway play the first of four games on Sunday.
The bottom eight teams after the three-game, round-robin preliminary round will face each other Tuesday in win-or-go-home matchups. The four winners will advance to play the top four teams after they’ve each had at least two days of rest in the single-elimination quarterfinals.