U.S. hockey opens with a flurry

ADLER, Russia – The United States men’s hockey team made winning its opening game at the Sochi Winter Olympics look easy Thursday, and the American players may have been surprised more than anybody the way things unfolded.

Against Slovakia, the U.S. broke a 1-1 deadlock with six unanswered goals in the second period to cruise to a 7-1 victory at the Shayba Arena in Olympic Park.

John Carlson scored the only goal of the first period to put the U.S. on top early, and after Tomas Tartar evened it up for Slovakia on a goal just 24 seconds into the middle period, the Americans didn’t take much time to go on the offensive.

Ryan Kesler scored what proved to be the game-winner just 62 seconds after Slovakia tied the contest, and Paul Stastny found the back the net 1:06 later to lift the U.S to a 3-1 edge. The Americans then buried four more pucks, including the last three, all of which came within a span of less than two minutes.

Stastny finished with two goals for the U.S., while David Backes, Phil Kessel and Dustin Brown also scored a goal each. Brown, a native of Ithaca and the captain of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, notched the last goal of the game with 4:43 left in the second period.

“I don’t think any of us thought we would blow them out like we did,” Brown said. “They got that top line that’s so dangerous. We really expected it would be more of a grinding-hard, hearts-out game, and sometimes it doesn’t go that way, but you never expect it to.”

Patrick Kane, who grew up in Buffalo and has won a Stanley Cup playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, said he likes the makeup of the American squad this time around. He thinks it could be better than the one that finished with the silver medal in 2010 in Vancouver after it lost the gold medal game in overtime to Canada.

“It’s an up-and-down team, a lot of guys who contribute on the scoresheet and a lot of guys that are physical and fast,” Kane said. “I think there are some special players on this team. I think they did a good job not maybe picking the most skilled players but the best players to complement each other.”

The U.S. owned a 33-23 advantage in shots on goal. Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings got the starting nod in nets for the U.S. over the Buffalo Sabres’ Ryan Miller, who was the most valuable player in the Vancouver Olympics men’s ice hockey tournament. Quick made 22 saves.

Jim Howard of the Detroit Red Wings is the third goalie on the U.S. and watched from the stands.

Jaroslav Halak started in goal for Slovakia and gave up five goals on 25 shots before he was replaced by Peter Budaj, who allowed two goals on eight shots.

Although the U.S. kicked off the Olympics with a rousing start, Brown said there’s work to be done in terms of getting everybody on the same page.

“The team is a work in progress, I mean everyone is still adjusting,” Brown said. “We’ve all played on it before so everybody understands it. It’s just trying to break the tendencies of what we do in our normal league.

“I think you take it with a grain of salt. It’s one game,” he added. “We played well, we didn’t give up much and Quicky had to make a couple of big saves for us. This tournament is all about getting better each and every game.”

The Americans will next head into a much-anticipated showdown against the

Sochi Olympics host nation, Russia, in each team’s second pool-play contest. The game takes place on Saturday at 4:30 p.m Sochi time.