Olympics-Ice hockey-Russia survive Slovenia scare in opener

Reuters

* U.S. up next for Russia

* Jeglic scores twice for Slovenia (Adds quotes, detail)

By Steve Keating

SOCHI, Russia Feb 13 (Reuters) - Russia got the Olympic men's ice hockey competition off to a satisfactory start with a 5-2 win over feisty Slovenia on Thursday which did little to improve the host country's gold medal hopes.

Going up against a Slovenian team making their Olympic debut, it was supposed to be a leisurely beginning to the tournament for the mighty Russians whose lineup features some of the world's top talent.

But Slovenia, with just one National Hockey League player on their roster, briefly threatened to pull off the biggest Olympic ice hockey upset since the 1980 Lake Placid 'Miracle on Ice' until Russia showed their class with a third-period burst.

Clinging to a 3-2 lead going into the final period, Valery Nichushkin and Anton Belov scored to put Russia back in charge and settle nerves at the soldout Bolshoy Ice Dome.

Alex Ovechkin, a three-times NHL most valuable player, Evgeny Malkin, another NHL MVP, and Ilya Kovalchuk, whose contracts total over $250 million, had the other Russian goals.

But it was Ziga Jeglic, an unheralded 25-year-old who earns his living in the German league, who stole the spotlight by accounting for both Slovenian goals.

"We started well we got the lead then we stopped playing," Ovechkin told reporters.

"We tried to make casual moves, when we had a chance to shoot the puck we didn't shoot. We gave them more life."

The stakes get higher and the pressure will turn up another notch on Saturday when Russia will faceoff against the United States in a mouth-watering matchup that will hark back to the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic 'Miracle on Ice'.

HUMILIATING LOSS

But revenge for a humiliating loss to a group of American college players 34 years ago could wait a few more days as Russian hockey fans arrived at the Bolshoy ready to rekindle fading memories of the glory days of the 'Big Red Machine" when Soviet teams ruled the international ice.

An enthusiastic flag-waving crowd, that included Vladislav Tretyak, president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, filled the futuristic arena expecting a blowout but instead were left on the edge of their seats for two periods.

Just over a minute into the opening period, Ovechkin brought the crowd to its feet when he cut towards the net and fired a shot past Slovenian netminder Robert Kristan.

Two minutes later the arena erupted again when Malkin scored to move the party into high gear.

"When you get the lead 2-0 it is kind of the situation where you feel like the game is going to be easy," said Ovechkin.

"That is when you stop playing, it's a good win when we have that kind of lesson."

Russia continued to dominate play in the second Period, relentlessly swarming into the Slovenian zone but could only put one more puck past a brave Kristan while Jeglic counted twice to make the score 3-2.

"Our goalie played really well and then in the second period in the locker room we said we have nothing to lose and we played much better," said Jeglic.

"We tried but it's too bad that in the end we couldn't surprise them." (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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