Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs had it going on Sunday for the Team USA in the Olympic hockey tournament, helping the U.S. clinch a bye to the quarterfinals with three goals in a 5-1 rout of Slovenia.
The Americans won their group with eight points and earned one of the four byes into the quarterfinals of the elimination round, which begins Tuesday with qualification playoff games. The quarterfinals will be Wednesday, the semifinals will be played on Friday, with the bronze-medal game Saturday and the gold medal game set for Sunday.
Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks drew assists on all three of Kessel’s goals, which were scored in succession in the first and second periods.
Kessel got the U.S. on the board just 1:04 into the game, helping to allay any fears fans might have had of a hangover after Saturday’s emotionally charged win over Russia.
Kessel made it 2-0 at 4:33 of the first period, with Pavelski and Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins earning the assists.
The Slovenians only had one NHL player on their roster, center Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, but he didn’t finish the game because of flu-like symptoms.
Kessel completed his hat trick—the first for an American in Olympic competition since John LeClair in 2002—at 11:05 of the second period, with assists going to Toronto teammate James van Riemsdyk and Pavelski. Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers made it 4-0 a little more than a minute late, off assists from Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets and Saturday’s shootout hero, T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues.
The final goal for the U.S. came at 3:26 of the third from David Backes of St. Louis, with assists going to Ryan Callahan of the Rangers and Dustin Brown of the Kings (who didn’t knee anyone Sunday, bonus!).
Slovenia spoiled the shutout bid of Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres with 17.6 seconds remaining, when Marcel Rodman, who plays for the Schwenningen Wild Wings in the German Eishockey Liga (I admit, I just wanted to write Schwenningen Wild Wings), found the net.
The Americans outshot Slovenia 28-18. Miller made 17 saves to earn the win in his Sochi debut, while 20-year-old Luka Gracnar, who plays for EC Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian Hockey League, stopped 23 of 28 shots.
So the U.S., after playing three games in four days, will get a bit of a break before Wednesday’s quarterfinals. The byes go to the three group winners as well as the top second-place team in preliminary round play, with the other eight teams dumped into the qualification playoff pool.