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Kessel's Natural Hat Trick Paces Team USA Past Slovenia, 5-1

by Photo of Gil Santos

Team USA wins Group A and coasts into the quarterfinals.

Kessel's Natural Hat Trick Paces Team USA Past Slovenia, 5-1

Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs scored the second natural hat trick of the tournament as Team USA cruised past Slovenia, 5-1. With the victory, the United States wins Group A undefeated and now will have two days of rest with a BYE to the quarterfinals.

Kessel’s hat trick was the first for Team USA since John LeClair accomplished the feat on home ice at Salt Lake City in 2002 against Finland. Kessel now leads all American goal scorers with four.

Buffalo Sabres’ goalie Ryan Miller received his first start in net of the tournament for the U.S. and stopped 17 of 18 shots. The 2010 Olympics MVP was rock solid and needed to be early on. While Team USA jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, Slovenia could have easily made it a close game. They outplayed the Americans for half of the first period and early in the second.

Miller’s play preserved the early two-goal lead and allowed the U.S. to make the game a blowout.

Team USA needed to avoid an early slow start after an emotional win against Russia and they made sure that didn’t happen. The U.S. found the back of the net in the first minute of play after a nice pass from San Jose Sharks’ Joe Pavelski to Kessel, who dangled around defenseman Mitja Robar and beat Slovenian goaltender Luka Grancnar to make it 1-0.

The same connection scored again three minutes later as Pavelski fed the puck off the boards to Kessel in front of the net, who then shot it home. The Slovenians gave the Americans a lot of trouble after Kessel’s pair of goals with their aggressive defense and forecheck, but could not capitalize.

After a great shift by the U.S.’s “fourth line” of T.J. Oshie, Paul Stastny, and Blake Wheeler, the Pavelski line took advantage of tired defenders. Pavelski wristed a shot to the net, which bounced off Grancar’s right pad to Kessel, who was in the right position as always. He banged in the rebound to complete the natural hat trick.

Just a minute later, Winnipeg Jets' Wheeler showed his wheels (pun intended) as he skated around the Slovenian defense and found defenseman Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers) across the ice. McDonagh then roofed the puck from the right circle for his first goal of the tournament to increase the lead to 4-0.

In the final period, Ryan Callahan showed why coaches urge their players to get the puck to the net as much as possible. Callahan backhanded the puck towards goal as St. Louis Blues' David Backes was driving hard to the net and Backes was able to put it in after a double deflection off his left skate and stick. Backes’ goal was his second of the Olympics.

The Slovenians (1-2) were able to avoid the shutout with 17.6 seconds to play when Marcel Rodman beat Miller high blocker side with a slap shot from the point.

Team USA will have to wait until Wednesday to hit the ice again and their opponent will be determined on Tuesday when eight teams play in the qualification round. The Americans ended up with the second overall seed after the preliminaries and will face the winner (7) Czech Republic and (10) Slovakia. A potential semifinal date with (3) Canada awaits, as that winner would determine which country gets to play for gold.

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