Lots of hockey still to come today, but the saddest part is out of the way. For 40 minutes, Slovenia kept it close against the heavily favored Swedes, and even came close to tying the game a couple times. But in the end, it was too much to ask. Slovenia bowed out of the Olympic tournament with a 5-0 loss, but not before making a name for themselves on an international stage.
Slovenia started out playing the kind of disciplined defensive hockey that got them into the quarterfinals of this tournament. Robert Kristan continued his strong play by stopping the few good shots Sweden had, including a point-blank save on Alexander Steen. The defense took care of the rest, until they found themselves a man short. At that point, Sweden's talent took over, and Steen scored a power play goal after Daniel Alfredsson's shot caromed back off the boards to him. Slovenia got six shots to Sweden's 10, but Henrik Lundqvist's stop on Tomas Razingar's breakaway chance was the only close call for the Swedes.
Sweden started to take control in period number 2, with Slovenia mustering only five more shots and Anze Kopitar getting none. Most of their chances resulted in no shots at all, so Lundqvist didn't have to strain himself all that much. At the other end, Robert Kristan was doing everything he could to keep his team in it. Kristan foiled Loui Eriksson on a tip and rebound right on the doorstep, while Gabriel Landeskog and Nicklas Backstrom were among the other Swedes who failed to beat the Slovenian goalie in the frame. Unfortunately, Salahudin Kovacevic made the most noise that period, delivering a high and late hit to Carl Hagelin. Hagelin would be okay (and demonstrate that later), but even though it only drew a two minute interference penalty, the check was not a good one at all.
As the third period kicked off, it was pretty clear that another Sweden goal would likely prove fatal to Slovenia's upset chances. Just 1:42 in, it happened; Eriksson stickhandled behind the net before setting up Daniel Sedin, who had plenty of net to work with and converted. With the deficit now two goals, Slovenia had one of their better offensive stretches. Kopitar finally got a good look but just missed the net, while Jan Urbas (one of the most effective forwards on the night) narrowly missed getting his stick on a great pass in front. After that charge failed, Slovenia just couldn't keep up any longer. Eriksson got open in the slot and added the third goal, and Hagelin scored goals 4 and 5 from close range in the final ten minutes.
The 5-0 final score was not quite indicative of the game as a whole, but by the end, it was clear that Slovenia simply didn't have the talent to match up with Sweden for 60 minutes. They would have needed a superhuman effort from Anze Kopitar to win, and though Kopitar's defensive effort was typically solid, he was effectively shut down by Sweden's defense. With the entire team appearing to run out of steam on the second day of back-to-back games, it was the end of the road for Slovenia.
We'll have more on the significance of this run later, but for now, let's just appreciate what this team did. Expected to finish 12th out of 12 teams, Slovenia won two games and made it all the way to the quarterfinals. If Canada beats Latvia as expected, the first-time Olympians will finish 7th. How cool is that? Anze Kopitar and the team have nothing to be ashamed of, and after the disappointment fades, they'll look back on this with a lot of pride.