John Carlson knows a thing or two about scoring big goals on the international stage.
As the burier of the game-winning goal in the gold medal game at the 2010 World Juniors against Canada, it should come as no surprise that the Capitals defenseman's first Olympic foray is off to a superb start. Carlson opened the scoring in the first period and later added an assist, helping the United States run away with a 7-1 victory over Slovakia in their tournament opener.
"It was obviously a nice way to start your first Olympics," said Carlson, who was born in Natick, Mass., then grew up in nearby Marlborough before his family relocated to New Jersey.
Carlson's goal didn't last long as the potential game-winner, as Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar knotted things up early in the second period, but the U.S. responded immediately with a goal from Ryan Kesler to go back on top.
It was their first of six tallies in the middle frame, which all came in the span of less than 14 minutes of action. Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny, the son of legendary Slovak Peter Stastny, buried two of USA's half-dozen strikes in the second period.
Stastny and his linemates, T.J. Oshie and Max Pacioretty (New Canaan, Conn.), combined for five points. They chased Slovak starter Jaroslav Halak when Stastny made it a 5-1 game, as Peter Budaj came on in relief.
"It’s our first game at the Olympics and I certainly liked how we played this game," USA coach Dan Bylsma said. "We responded when they scored and came with six unanswered goals. The line of Paul Stastny, T.J. Oshie and Max Pacioretty did not only find their way on the scoresheet, they did positive work in general. They were possibly our strongest line tonight."
The U.S. got a strong, steady performance from Jonathan Quick (Hamden, Conn.), who made 22 saves on 23 shots to earn the victory in his international debut.
On the flip side, it was a torturous tilt for Slovakia, which nearly topped Canada to reach the gold medal game back in 2010 in Vancouver before falling to Finland in the battle for bronze. The Slovaks were without a number of key cogs from that squad four years ago, including injured winger Marian Gaborik of the Blue Jackets.
"Obviously we would be a better team with these guys, but injuries do happen and it’s tough to replace guys of that caliber," said captain Zdeno Chara. "[We didn't lose] because of that. We lost coverage and people around the net, and they scored a lot of goals."
Next up for Slovakia is a matchup on Saturday with Slovenia, which hung tough with Russia until slipping late in a 5-2 loss Thursday, while the Americans will take on the Russians that same day.
"Any time you play a host country that’s such a powerhouse, with such dedication and such passionate fans, this is their most important tournament," Stastny said. "We did this against Canada and now we get to play Russia at home. You’ve just got to go with it. It’ll be an exciting time, and we’ll see where we stack up against one of the favorites."