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What do Team USA’s and Russia’s upset losses mean for the rest of the Olympic hockey field?

The United States and Russia are already on their heels in a short Olympic tournament.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 5 - Slovakia v Russia Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The first day of the 2018 Winter Olympic men’s hockey tournament has not gone as expected. Already, we have seen the United States fall to Slovenia, 3-2, in overtime despite taking a two-goal lead into the third period. Maybe the biggest surprise of the day, however, came moments later when the Russian team fell to Slovakia, 3-2, tipping Group B on its head.

One upset loss of a major hockey powerhouse is usually enough to shake up the standings. Adding a second team into the mix on just the first day of the men’s tournament, however, has blown the doors wide open on a tournament that was already up in the air thanks to the lack of NHL participation.

It’s still very early in the men’s Olympic tournament, but the losses for both the United States and the Russian team will have repercussions due to the short tournament format. Here’s how things have shaken out for the United States and Russia, and why these losses are such a big deal.

Why are these two losses such upsets?

While the United States was not favored to medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics, the team was not expected to struggle against Slovenia in their opening game. For two-thirds of the game, the Americans didn’t struggle, as they had a 2-0 lead heading into the final period. However, a lack of urgency in the third period allowed Slovenia to mount a two-goal comeback to force overtime.

Team USA was unable to get a single shot on goal before Slovenia ended the game 38 seconds into overtime to complete the comeback.

The Russians, on the other hand, were the 1-1 favorites to win the men’s tournament in the final odds placed before the start of the Olympics. Due to the addition of KHL, and former NHL, stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, the Russian team was expected to easily compete for the gold. The team was also given the first-place odds overall when the original odds came out in October, showcasing just how long the team has been considered the favorites in this tournament.

The Russian team also had a 2-0 lead that they eventually coughed up, but the team opened the game with two quick scores in the first five minutes of play. Slovakia eventually tied the game up late in the first period, and it wasn’t until the third where they distanced themselves for good. Considering just how favored the Russians were coming into the tournament, they were not supposed to struggle in their first game, against Slovakia no less.

How do these losses impact the rest of the tournament?

It’s still very early in the Olympics for both teams, but the losses put the United States and the Russians on their back feet almost immediately. Both teams have two more games left to play in Group B in the round robin tournament, and one against the other. Here’s how the standings sit on Wednesday afternoon for Group B.

Men’s Olympic hockey Group B standings

Team Wins Overtme wins Losses Overtime losses Points
Team Wins Overtme wins Losses Overtime losses Points
Slovakia 1 0 0 0 3
Slovenia 0 1 0 0 2
United States 0 0 0 1 1
Olympic Athletes From Russia 0 0 1 0 0

On Thursday, the United States is set to play Slovakia while the Russians will play Slovenia Friday morning. Both games are absolute must-wins to keep them both in play, as the pressure now mounts the further we get into the tournament. The Americans, however, have a bit more room to breathe, as they got one point thanks to making it to overtime on Wednesday. Team USA can overtake Slovakia at the top of the standings should they win in regulation over their opponents, or settle for an overtime win to keep themselves apace with the top two teams.

The Russians have no such luxury and will have to fight for a regulation win against Slovenia on Friday to net three points.

Do these upsets spell doom for each team’s medal chances?

No, but it makes things so much harder for the United States and Russia to climb up the rankings. This Olympic preliminary tournament is formatted into three groups, with four teams in each. After this group stage, the teams are seeded from one to 12 for a playoff bracket, with the top four teams getting an automatic bye to the quarterfinal stages. Missing out on that bye means they have to play one additional must-win game to advance.

Both teams, but Russia especially, were vying for an automatic bye to the quarterfinals. Instead of having to win three games back to back for a gold medal if given a bye, four games are needed if you are out of a top four spot.

The last time a team missed the quarterfinal bye but won gold was Team Canada in 2010 after losing to the Americans in the final preliminary match.

These upset losses aren’t the end of the world for both teams, surely, but the road is now much tougher for the United States and the Russian team with their disappointing Olympic debuts.

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