It took a while, but Russia finally solved the riddle that was Jan Laco.
The Russians beat Slovakia 1-0 in a shootout on Sunday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, thanks to successful attempts from Alexander Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk. With the win, Russia clinched second place in Group A and will now wait to see of it obtains a bye to the tournament quarterfinals as a top-four seed.
Slovakia gave Russia all it could handle in the final group game, however.
The story of the game was the play of Laco, the 32-year-old netminder who entered this tournament as Slovakia’s No. 3 goalie — behind NHLers Jaroslav Halak and Peter Budaj — and didn’t even dress for his country’s first two games of the tournament.
Laco stopped all 36 shots faced during regulation and overtime, a dramatic turn for the Slovaks after Halak was torched for eight goals on 48 shots over the first two games while Budaj allowed two on six.
Sunday’s game represented a turning point not just for Slovakian goaltending, but the team on the whole. It managed to secure its first point of the tournament and thereby avoided going into the playoff round as the No. 12 seed (that’ll go to Norway.) Slovakia also showed great resolve in holding the high-powered Russian offense at bay, killing five penalties while keeping the Kovalchuk-Radulov-Pavel Datsyuk line to just five total shots on net.
Speaking of limiting offense, Russia netminder Semyon Varlamov resumed starting duties after sitting out Saturday’s loss to the U.S. and was solid, stopping 27 shots for his first Olympic shutout.