After two periods, Anze Kopitar and Slovenia was locked in a tight game with Slovakia. With 20 minutes to go, Matjaz Kopitar's band of upstarts were within reach of the first Olympic victory in their nation's history. Imagine the pressure.
So what did Slovenia do? They came out flying, scored three goals in six minutes, and finished off a monumental 3-1 win. And after a decent first game in Sochi, Anze Kopitar definitively proved that he is one of the best hockey players in the world.
The first period was a promising one. Marian Hossa is the clear-cut best forward on Slovakia and Kopitar plays the same role for Slovenia, and both came out swinging. Robert Kristan made a good save right off the bat on Hossa, while Jaroslav Halak (trying to rebound from getting pulled on Thursday) made a glove stop on Kopitar. Slovakia would outshoot Slovenia in the third, but the chances were fairly even. Kopitar played 9:31 in the first, which seemed like an impossible pace to maintain. Meanwhile, Sabahudin Kovacevic leveled Tomas Kopecky with an elbow; that would be Slovenia's low point.
The second period upped the drama, and both teams came close to breaking the deadlock multiple times. Kristan made a massive pad save on Tomas Surovy, while Jan Urbas was stopped by Halak a couple times. But the star of the show was Kopitar. He took a holding penalty, which sent him to the box for what I assume was his longest break of the game. He finished the second period at 17:09 of ice time, and by that point, he had almost banked one in off Halak's back, passed up a golden chance on a 2-on-1, and threatened the goal another half-dozen times. The game was still 0-0.
The third period began with Slovenia killing the last 45 seconds of a penalty, then immediately going on a power play. Kopitar had what appeared to be an open net as Halak was way out of position, but a desperate lunge from Ivan Baranka blocked his shot. Seconds later, a goal! Ziga Jeglic set up Rok Ticar in the slot, and though Ticar initially could not control the puck, he took it on his backhand and beat Halak five-hole. Suddenly down 1-0, Slovakia pressed for an equalizer, and Hossa had two hard shots stopped by Kristan. It was the last time Slovakia would truly threaten to win.
That's because captain Tomaz Razingar came through. After a rush, the puck was loose about ten feet from the net, and Razingar beat Zdeno Chara and the rest of the Slovakians to it. He didn't even try to stickhandle, he just wound up and blasted a shot past Halak. Only one thing was missing, and just 23 seconds later, Kopitar finally got the goal he deserved. And it was magical.
Kopitar had the first Olympic goal of his career, Slovenia had a 3-zip lead, and that was basically that. Slovenia didn't let off the gas, and though Tomas Jurco finally beat Robert Kristan with 17 seconds to go, it was a mere footnote on a historic evening. Kopitar finished with an astounding 26:50 of ice time, and every last second was worth it as his teammates played the game of their lives. What an evening. And how did the heroes feel about it?
Anze Kopitar: "I'm kinda speechless. So happy. This is going to stick with Slovenia for a long time."— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) February 15, 2014