And...breathe. It was quite the day of hockey in Ufa, Russia. The Canadians had to overcome a pair of two-goal deficits to take down the Slovaks, who appear to be much more of a threat for a medal than originally thought.
Then, in the main event, the Americans and Russians put on a terrific display in what ultimately ended in a 2-1 victory for the host nation. With the game tied just a few minutes into the third period, 17-year old 2013 draft-eligible Valeri Nichuskin put together an end-to-end rush, dancing around four US players including star defenseman Seth Jones. The puck was jarred loose around the net where Vladimir Tkachyov hammered it past John Gibson for the game-winning goal.
Gibson was a calming presence in net for the United States, stopping 28 of 30 shots. His counterpart, however, was even better. Andrei Makarov, the goaltender who was upstaged by Sweden's Oscar Dansk in last year's Gold Medal game, made 41 stops of his own including this fantastic sprawling save early on:
It was one of many big saves by Makarov, who helped the Russians kill off a penalty in the final 1:32 of the game. The Americans scored their only goal on the power play, but were unable to mount a legitimate rush in the waning moments.
Meanwhile, Slovakia gave Canada all it could handle in an earlier game, jumping out to leads of 2-0 and 3-1 before the Canadians and goaltender Malcolm Subban regained their composure. Subban faltered early, but seems to be learning on the job.
Unfortunately, the story surrounding the Canadian locker room after the game wasn't about their slow start, or even their shaky goaltender as a matchup with the Americans looms on Sunday. With Boone Jenner serving the second of his three-game suspension for an egregious hit in pre-tournament competition, Canada had two more players ejected from play for heavy hits on Friday.
In the first period, J.C. Lipon was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for this hit to the head on Tomas Mikus:
Mikus, who was injured on the play, felt good enough to rejoin the action just moments later and good enough to score the Slovaks' second goal. Lipon will have a disciplinary hearing on Monday.
Then, in the second period, Anthony Camara was given another five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for charging Patrik Luza:
Luza left the game on a stretcher, and while the severity of his injury was far worse than Mikus', he will not face any disciplinary action from the IIHF. In this age of heightened player safety, it seems as though any time your gut reaction is to cringe following a big hit, the referee's arm will go up. In this case, a five-minute major is excessive, but the referees are told to err on the side of caution.
With Jenner already out of the lineup on Sunday, it'll be interesting to see if the Canadians lose Lipon against the Americans as well.