Starting Over: Despite Loss To Russia, U.S. Men Reach Olympic Quarters

The U.S. men’s Olympic team qualified Tuesday for medal-round play despite losing its third straight game, this one a 5-4 decision to Russia in the Americans’ final preliminary-round game.

With the score tied at 4 midway through the third period, the game-winner for Russia came off the stick of Alexei Kovalev at 11:52 from the top of the right circle.

The loss, which came before 9,378 at the Palasport Olimpico, dropped the U.S. to 1-3-1 in preliminaries. It was the Americans’ third straight one-goal defeat after tying Latvia and defeating Kazakhstan in their first two games.

Team USA will play Finland Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. EST at the Palasport Olimpico for the right to advance to the semifinals. The United States finished fourth in Group B, while Finland was the top finisher in Group A at 5-0-0.

“This is a tough loss,” said U.S. head coach Peter Laviolette. “The scoreboard is not agreeing with how we’ve played. We remain confident we’ll win a hockey game tomorrow night. Our goal is to remain focused and keep pushing ahead.”

The Russians held a 2-1 lead after the opening period. With the United States on the power play, Alexander Korolyuk stole the puck at the blueline and raced the length of the ice to beat netminder Robert Esche at 9:27, just five seconds after Russia’s penalty expired.

Russia made it 2-0 on a shorthanded two-on-one breakaway at 10:41 with Evgeni Malkin beating a helpless Esche after a nifty feed across the goal by Darius Kasparaitis.

Team USA got back into the game with just 1:22 left in the opening period as Brian Rolston (Lake Superior State) put home his third of the Olympics off a pass from Craig Conroy (Clarkson), but Andrei Markov made it 3-1 for Russia at 15:00 of the second when he rocketed a shot into the near side corner from the right faceoff circle.

Brian Gionta (Boston College) brought the Americans back within one at 19:01 of the second when he knocked in a rebound on a scramble in front of the net with the United States on the power play. Scott Gomez and Doug Weight (Lake Superior State) drew assists.

Team USA evened the score with its third power-play goal of the game at 5:00 of the final period. Mathieu Schneider’s shot from the left point deflected off the skate of Anton Volchenkov at the bottom of the circle, bounded toward the goal and went in off the leg of Gomez from the front of the crease.

Alexander Ovechkin put Russia ahead 4-3 at 9:55, but Erik Cole (Clarkson) slammed home a backhand wraparound just 43 seconds later to tie the game for the second time.

Esche finished with 16 stops, while Russian netminders Maxim Sokolov and Evgeni Nabokov combined for 30 saves.

Notes: Rolston celebrated his 33rd birthday Tuesday with a goal and an assist… Team USA has outshot each of its five opponents. … The United States has a 6-2-2 record all-time in the Olympics against Finland … Other quarterfinal matchups include Slovakia vs. the Czech Republic, Russia vs. Canada, and Switzerland vs. Sweden.