Injured Kovalchuk lifts Russia to shootout win
Slovakia's goalkeeper Jan Laco concedes a goal to Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk (back) during a penalty shootout at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 16, 2014 - by Bruce Bennett
It was the second shootout in as many days for the Russians who lost a heartbreaker 3-2 to the USA on Saturday.
"Overall we've played well," said Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin. "Everybody wants to beat Russia at home. It's the Olympic Games and nobody wants to make mistakes."
Kovalchuk beat Slovakia goaltender Jan Laco with a backhand shot in close for the four-time world champion Russians who are seeking their first Olympic gold medal since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Kovalchuk had to leave the game halfway through the second period after he fell awkwardly while fighting for a loose puck with Slovak Richard Panik.
He went to the dressing room for a brief period and received some treatment before returning to become the shootout star.
Russia finished with two wins and a loss in Group A of the round robin and now advance to the qualification round.
"Now we can't lose, all the games could bring elimination," Kovalchuk said.
The shootout was reminiscent of four years ago in Vancouver when the late Pavol Demitra score the winning goal in a shootout for Slovakia as they beat the Russians 2-1.
Demitra died in 2011 when a Yakovlev Yak-42 passenger aircraft, carrying the entire hockey team of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League. All the players were killed.
Semyon Varlamov stopped both shots he faced in the shootout and had 27 saves overall.
Alexander Radulov also scored for Russia in the shootout. Radulov took some heat for Saturday's loss to the Americans after two penalties he received led to both USA goals in regulation time, but he was one of the Russian's top offensive performers on Sunday.
Michal Handzus and Tomas Tatar failed on both their shootout attempts for Slovakia.
Russian forward Pavel Datsyuk said they can get better.
"We're not happy about this game. We wanted to win it in regular time, not to go into shootouts or cause heart attacks," he said.
Laco was superb in goal as he finished with 36 saves. He also got some help from his posts. One of the Russians' best scoring chances came at the five minute mark of the third as Alexander Semin tipped a point shot that hit the cross bar and also ricochetted off the right post and out of harm's way.
"When it hits the post, it is not a goal," said Laco. "We played well even though the last period was really hard.
"It was a good game but we were still unsuccessful."
In other daytime matches on Sunday, Phil Kessel scored three goals as the United States routed Slovenia 5-1 while Austria beat Norway 3-1.
The victory powered the Americans into the quarter-finals of the tournament.
"It's not about me it's about the win," said Kessel, who plays in the NHL for the Toronto Maple Leafs. "We can still improve more and we have to get a lot better."