The United States watched its route to the Olympic quarterfinals get that much more difficult Saturday, as Slovakia edged the U.S. 2-1 in preliminary-group play at the Torino Esposizioni.
Peter Bondra scored what proved to be the game-winning goal 1:48 into the third period when he took Miroslav Satan’s feed from the end boards out in front and snapped it to the back of the net.
Slovakia (3-0) is in first place Group B, two points ahead of Russia and Sweden and three in front of the fourth-place Americans (1-1-1). The top four in the six-team group move on to the quarterfinals.
The U.S. has yet to play Russia or Sweden in the preliminaries.
“We wanted to play with passion and excitement and we did that,” said Team USA captain Chris Chelios (Wisconsin). “We could have very well won the game. We played well enough to win. They’re (Slovakia) a good hockey team.”
Added U.S. head coach Peter Laviolette, “It was a terrific hockey game. I thought we played hard and had a lot of scoring opportunities.”
Those scoring opportunities, however, went largely unfulfilled. The Americans outshot Slovakia 31-20 for the game, but scored just once against Slovakian netminder Peter Budaj.
U.S. goaltender Rick DiPietro (Boston University) finished with 19 saves, while Budaj had 28 stops.
While the first period was scoreless, it featured plenty of action. Team USA’s Mike Modano had a couple of chances in the first 90 seconds sail wide of the goal. Just more than two minutes into the contest, Jason Blake (North Dakota) was foiled in tight by Budaj.
Slovakia had eight shots in the first period, four on the stanza’s only power play. The Slovaks’ best chance, however, might have come on a two-on-one in the final seconds of the period, but DiPietro got his elbow on Satan’s shot from 10 feet out to preserve the scoreless tie.
Slovakia opened the scoring 14:20 into the second period on the power play when Marian Hossa beat DiPietro through the legs just to the inside of the right faceoff circle, and the U.S. evened the game just more than four minutes later on a power play of its own.
Brian Rolston (Lake Superior State) fired a rocket home from the left point for his second goal of the tournament and ninth Olympic goal of his career. Brian Rafalski (Wisconsin) — playing his first game after missing the first two contests with an injury — sent the puck across to Rolston after Scott Gomez won the faceoff just outside the Slovak blueline.
The U.S. will play its fourth of five preliminary-round games Sunday against Sweden. Opening faceoff is set for 11 a.m. (EST) at the Torino Esposizioni.