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Olympics / Sports

Slovakia defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) controls the puck against a stick check from USA forward Patrick Kane (88) in the second period at Shayba Arena in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, February 13, 2014. The USA beat Slovakia, 7-1. (Chuck Myers/MCT)

Stastny keys US over Slovakia in men's hockey

SOCHI, Russia -- It would be unreasonable to expect Paul Stastny to be as good a hockey player as his father, Peter, was on the international stage and in the NHL.

Peter was so highly regarded as an athlete and person that he was chosen to carry Slovakia's flag into the opening ceremony of the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, the country's first Games as an independent nation. Paul, born while Peter played in Quebec City but raised in the United States, has been a good NHL player if not a great one.

In an odd twist of fate, Paul Stastny's hockey career and heritage met Thursday when he faced his father's homeland and scored two goals, propelling Team USA to a strong start in the Sochi tournament and confirming his own hockey credentials.

Stastny contributed two of six goals scored by Team USA during the second period of a 7-1 rout of Slovakia at Shayba Arena. Stastny, who plays for the Colorado Avalanche, centered for Max Pacioretty and T.J. Oshie on what was supposed to be the fourth line but instead was a consistent force.

"Every time they went over the boards they made something happen," coach Dan Bylsma said. "That's the kind of depth throughout the lineup that you need to have. They were possibly our best line."

Team USA scored first on a first-period blast by John Carlson and was stunned when Tomas Tatar brought Slovakia even 24 seconds into the second period on a high wrist shot on a play that likely was offside. Ryan Kesler gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead at 1:26, scoring from the top of the right circle while Dustin Brown screened goalie Jaroslav Halak, and Stastny provided some breathing room at 2:32, when he converted the rebound of a shot by Pacioretty.

David Backes made it 4-1 off a scramble in front, and Stastny fueled the rout when he scored off a setup from Kevin Shattenkirk. Halak, who plays for the St. Louis Blues, was yanked after that and replaced by Peter Budaj.

"It's always special playing against Slovakia. I always know family back home is watching," said Stastny, whose father serves as a member of the European parliament from Slovakia. "My parents always watch, no matter what. Usually they're not here, so they're in Europe watching on TV.

"Both my parents are Slovakian. My grandparents. I speak it. Playing these guys is always something special. I've never beaten these guys so it was nice to get it on my third try. I think on the most important stage, it's good."

Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick made 21 saves in his first Olympic action after being the third goalie for the 2010 silver-medal team. Phil Kessel, clicking with Toronto teammate James van Riemsdyk and a revolving door of centers, scored the sixth U.S. goal by redirecting a pass from van Riemsdyk and had a team-high three points. Brown, who had no goals in his last 12 games with the Kings and last scored on Jan. 13, accounted for the final U.S. goal after a fine setup from Carlson at 15:17 of the second period. Each of the four U.S. lines scored at least one goal.

All in all, not a bad start for a team whose offense had been considered suspect. For Slovakia, it was a nightmarish and surprisingly flat performance.

"Tough loss. It's not how we wanted to enter the tournament," Slovakia and Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa said.

"We knew we were facing one of the favorites in the tournament. We played a pretty simple and pretty good first period but the second after we scored first -- the tying goal -- I don't know what happened. All of a sudden they were all over us and we didn't play well defensively."

As well as the Americans played, they'll have to play better against host Russia on Saturday. This was a solid first step for their first time on the wider international rink -- whose passing lanes they used well -- but Russia's formidable skill and the passion of its fans will pose huge challenges.

"It will be an exciting time," Stastny said. "We'll see where we stack up against one of the favorites."

(c)2014 Los Angeles Times

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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