Sometimes when you're the host country in the Olympic, the pressure is too much, and that was almost the case for Russia when it comes to their men's hockey team.
After a shootout loss against the United States that was the result of a called-off goal in the third period, Slovakia was the perfect opponent to come back against. They've been defensively porous in the tournament and lost to Slovenia, of all teams. An easy win for Russia, right?
Slovakia held the edge in play through a scoreless two periods, but the officials did their best to help Russia in the third by penalizing the Slovaks four straight times, several of the calls of the chintzy variety. Russia picked up a 20-4 shots edge in the third period as a result, but goalie Jan Laco played outstanding hockey to keep the Russians off the board.
(gif via @PeteBlackburn)
In spite of all those gifted opportunities, Russia couldn't beat Laco in regulation or overtime, and Russia went to the shootout for the second time in 24 hours.
Alexander Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk were chosen to take the first two shots from Russia. Both made good on them, with Michal Handzus and Tomas Tatar both failing to beat Semyon Varlamov, winning the game for Russia.
The win, due greatly to Russia getting lucky, should serve as a wake-up call to the host country. Russia has been playing a stereotypical game so far during the Olympics, with a crazily talented team playing like a bunch of individuals. Andrei Markov, Evgeni Malkin, and captain Pavel Datsyuk seem to be the only players willing to pass the puck, and that's just not good enough to win games at this level, at least not against the tougher opponents in the knockout stage.
Pending the result of Canada's game against Finland later Sunday, Russia will either finish fifth or fourth in the preliminary round play. With a blowout win for Canada unlikely, fifth is what they're expecting. This means that Russia has to go the extra step of getting out of the qualification round, where anything can happen to any team.