* Stastny leads way for US with two second period goals
* Americans can now focus on Saturday clash with Russia (Adds quotes and details)
By Frank Pingue
SOCHI, Russia, Feb 13 (Reuters) - The United States kicked off their quest for the men's ice hockey gold medal at the Sochi Olympics by sending a clear message to their rivals with a 7-1 rout of Slovakia on Thursday.
The Americans, looking to improve on their silver from the 2010 Games, scored six goals in the second period to snuff out any hopes Slovakia had of pulling off an upset.
"I don't think we expected a 7-1 win but we'll definitely take it for the first game," U.S. captain Zach Parise told reporters.
"These guys are a pretty tough defensive team for the most part and today we were just able to control the puck well and score on the opportunities we had."
The Americans opened the scoring late in the first period when John Carlson took a drop pass from Phil Kessel and ripped a slapshot over Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak's right shoulder.
Slovakia, who made an unlikely run to the bronze medal game in 2010, drew level at 1-1 with a goal 24 seconds into the second period when Tomas Tatar took advantage of a turnover in the U.S. zone and sent a shot from in close past netminder Jonathan Quick.
However, they were unable to keep pace with the Americans, who responded with a goal a minute later before pulling away to complete the rout ahead of the intermission.
Two goals from Paul Stastny and one each from Ryan Kesler, David Backes, Phil Kessel and Dustin Brown accounted for the rest of the U.S. scores.
"They were flying, and we couldn't keep up," said Slovakian goalie Peter Budaj, who replaced Halak during the second period.
"We made some mistakes, especially in the second period, and they made us pay for it."
Flying under the radar with most of the attention on Russia, Sweden and 2010 gold medallists Canada, the United States gave a dazzling offensive display that showed plenty of chemistry for a team that arrived at the Black Sea resort three days ago.
With the always-nervy opening game out of the way, the U.S, squad can now focus on the marquee matchup of the preliminary round, Saturday's game against Russia.
"We know how good they are. They are at home and they will have the whole building on their side and we know that but we are excited about the game," said Parise.
"We're all used to going into tough buildings and playing road games and I think this will be another level but it'll be exciting." (Editing by Ed Osmond)
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Phil Kessel