SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 15: Robert Kristan #33 of Slovenia celebrates with Anze Kopitar #11 after defeating Slovakia 3-1 during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day eight of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Between Team USA's thrilling shootout victory over Russia and Slovenia getting their first ever Olympic victory, there were plenty of star performances on Saturday, but who stood out the most?
Third Star: Jonas Hiller (Switzerland)
In three games in the Olympics so far, the Swiss have only allowed one goal, and Hiller has picked up two shutouts as his team shut out the Czech Republic on Saturday afternoon in Sochi.
Hiller’s teammates deserve a great deal of credit for their physical and aggressive style of defense, and it’s their discipline even while racking up hits and created turnovers that is most notable. Even still, the fact of the matter is that Hiller has been absolutely splendid in net for them throughout this tournament, and with Reto Berra having a good game of his own Friday, the Swiss are in good position as the quarterfinals near.
Consider Hiller’s play in the final two periods against the Czech Republic. In the second period, Hiller faced 10 shots and had to help kill off an early power play, but he never lost his composure and was perfect in terms of his positioning and rebound control in the frame.
The third period saw an even more spectacular effort by the Anaheim Ducks goaltender. On two separate power plays, Hiller stopped several quality chances by some serious snipers, as guys like Tomas Plekanec and Jaromir Jagr both had splendid chances that were snuffed out by Hiller. In all, the Swiss defense only allowed five shots on goal in the frame despite being a man short for four minutes, but they were quality chances and Hiller showed great poise in stopping all of them.
Depending on who they match up with in the playoff round, which begins on Tuesday, the Swiss could be a team to look for to pull an upset or two as they try to get on the medal stand in what would be one of the biggest surprises of this year’s Olympics.
Second Star: TJ Oshie (United States)
Oshie may not have made a huge impact during the 65 minutes of play that preceded the shootout, but once the extra session started, he was clearly in his element.
On the very first attempt of the shootout, Oshie slowly crept up the ice, and then used a wicked shot to put the puck right between Sergei Bobrovsky’s pads to give the U.S. a 1-0 edge. After both James van Riemsdyk and Joe Pavelski were stopped in the ensuing rounds, Oshie took the next five U.S. shots, and scored several key goals to keep things moving along.
In the fifth round, Pavel Datsyuk beat Jonathan Quick to the stick side, and Oshie came down the ice and roofed a shot over Bobrovsky. In the very next round, Ilya Kovachuk floated a goal past Quick to once again put the pressure on the St. Louis Blues’ youngster, who then pulled off the same move to beat Bobrovsky and continue things.
Finally in the eighth round, Quick made a big stop on Kovalchuk, and Oshie took full advantage, pulling off yet one more move to end the shootout and give the U.S. a critical second point. His four goals showed not only a flair for creativity and execution, but also put on full display why U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma pushed so hard for him to be included on the roster.
First Star: Anze Kopitar (Slovenia)
Kopitar has had plenty of success during his career with the Los Angeles Kings, having won the 2012 Stanley Cup championship with the squad, but Slovenia’s 3-1 victory over Slovakia on Saturday may still rank as one of his career highlights when all is said and done.
That’s because Slovenia had never won a game in Olympic competition before their triumph over the favored Slovaks, and Kopitar was right there in the middle of it. He had several key shifts for his team over the stretch, as they tried to hold onto a narrow 1-0 lead they got early in the third period thanks to a goal by the awesomely named Roc Ticar, and he helped the squad hold onto the puck and drain precious time off the clock.
Kopitar wasn’t just great in terms of keeping possession for his team (something he’s incredibly adept at in the NHL), but he also got involved in the scoring too with a brilliant play. With his team having just gone up 2-0 20 seconds before, Kopitar got the puck along the boards in the offensive zone, side-stepping a check, Kopitar circled the net, and saw that his angle was cut off by Jaroslav Halak, who was out at the top of the crease. Kopitar then found a seam, skated along the front of the net, and when Halak ran into traffic, the ace center calmly deposited the puck into the net to give his team a 3-0 lead.
It was a masterful display of strength, patience, and cunning on the part of Kopitar, and it not only gave his team a critical two points in the standings, but it also gives them an opportunity to get a great seed in the quarterfinal if they can pull off an upset again Sunday against a United States team that will be heavily favored.