Team USA earned their only win of the round-robin portion of the World Cup of Hockey on Friday, defeating Slovakia by a score of 3-1 in their final match before the quarterfinals.
After playing uninspired hockey against Canada and Russia, the United States had “earned” an 0-2 record. Coach Ron Wilson scratched five players, including future Hall-of-Famer Brett Hull, and the team came out with more energy from the start of the game.
Brian Smolinski, one of the five players added to the lineup, scored on a power play just 3:09 into the game. Smolinski knocked a rebound out of the air and put the puck past Slovak goaltender Jan Lasak.
“It was a weird bounce on a power play and I just outmuscled my guy,” said Smolinski.
Ladislav Nagy tied the game at 11:24 of the first, also with the man-advantage.
The eventual game-winner was scored by Jason Blake on a disputed play. Blake fell to the ice while skating towards the goal. A Chris Chelios pass hit him as he slid along and his body carried the puck into the net. The play was reviewed and the goal was allowed to stand.
American netminder Rick DiPietro, making his first start of the tournament to allow Robert Esche to rest, preserved the lead with timely saves.
Lasak kept the Slovaks in the game until Bill Guerin scored from his backhand on a breakaway with 3:43 remaining in the game.
“We had an emotional game in Canada and a bit of a hangover against Russia,” forward Keith Tkachuk said after the game. “This was a much better effort. We have to play our style – up together and back together, chipping it in and grinding it out.”
The United States finished the preliminary round with a 1-2 record. Slovakia is currently 0-2 while Canada is 2-0 and Russia is 1-0. In Friday’s European game, the Czech Republic defeated Germany by the score of 7-2.