Russians pass test from Slovakia

SOCHI, Russia -- The Russian men's hockey team has made its hopeful journey to gold a little harder after needing a shootout to get a 1-0 win over Slovakia on Sunday.

After Canada's 2-1, overtime win over Finland, the Canadians are the No. 3 seed and the Finns are No. 4, meaning the host Russians will be the fifth overall seed and have to play a qualifying-round playoff game against Norway on Tuesday.

"I think we need to focus on this game," said Russian star Pavel Datsyuk. "We get a little bit of rest for two days. It doesn't matter who we play against."

It's certainly not the end of the world, and let's not forget Canada had to do the same thing four years ago in Vancouver, beating Germany in a qualifying game before reaching the quarterfinals and eventually winning the gold medal.

Looking back, Team Canada feels playing the extra game helped it come together en route to gold. So the same could hold true for Russia. Besides, it'll mean more ticket sales, right?

Canada's win Sunday means Sweden gets the top overall seed with the U.S. at No. 2. The Swedes get the winner of the 8 vs. 9 qualifying-round game between Slovenia and Austria in the quarterfinals, while the Americans face the winner of the 7-10 matchup between the Czech Republic-Slovakia. Canada plays the winner of the 6 vs. 11 game between Switzerland and Latvia. 

Fourth-seeded Finland gets a quarterfinal date with the winner of the Russia-Norway game, and the last thing the Finns want is to see Russia in the quarters. 

Regardless, the Russians know their gold-medal quest got harder and they must get their A-game back after barely slipping by Slovakia.

"We not score on the power play and we had many power plays. We need to work on it more,'' said Datsyuk, whose team went 0-for-5 with the man advantage.

Meanwhile, the Slovaks rebounded strongly after a stunning 3-1 loss to hockey minnow Slovenia on Saturday. The Vancouver 2010 semifinalists went step for step with the Russians, looking more like the team we're used to seeing.

"I really thought we had good bounce back after yesterday," said Slovak captain Zdeno Chara. "We just have to build on that and get ready for our next opponent.''

Slovakia's Tomas Tatar, a forward for the Red Wings, agreed that the Slovaks restored some pride Sunday.

"I think we are still happy with the result,'' Tatar said. "The shootout is a lottery, right? So we're really happy we played a 0-0 game with Russia, one of the gold-medal favorites. That's what we want to do. We played a system and I think we just showed we are ready for the [qualification] round.''

Their next opponent will be the Czech Republic in the 7-10 qualifying round game, a delicious reprisal of one of hockey's great rivalries between two countries that were once under the same flag as Czechoslovakia.

"It's going to be huge for both countries,'' said Tatar. "It's going to be a battle."

For the Slovaks, regardless of an awful start to the tournament that included a 7-1 blowout loss to Team USA, a win over the Czechs gets them to the quarters, and all bets are off after that. That's the beauty of this tournament format, that all 12 teams get at least one playoff game.

"You always have a chance in this tournament I guess no matter what you do in your first two games, you can still move along if you win that do-or-die game," said Chara. "We have to get ready for that and play our best hockey.''

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