Russian gold-medal favorites lose opening game to Slovakia

Patrik Lamper (63), of Slovakia, falls as he battles for the puck against Russian athlete Andrei Zubarev (28) during the first period of the preliminary round of the men's hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) The latest iteration of the Russian Red Machine started its Olympic hockey tournament against Slovakia on Wednesday and lost 3-2.

The Russians gave up a two-goal lead as defensive errors allowed Slovakia to end the first period at 2-2. Peter Ceresnak then scored the game-winner with a slapshot in the third period.

Before the tournament, the Russians were considered to be the gold-medal favorites in the first Olympics since 1994 without NHL players. However, they were also the favorites on home ice in Sochi four years ago, only to struggle under the pressure before losing to Finland in the quarterfinals.

This time around, they are playing under the name ”Olympic Athletes from Russia” as part of the country’s punishment from the International Olympic Committee for doping at the 2014 Sochi Games. If they win the gold medal, the Olympic anthem will play.

Still, the red and white jerseys are a powerful reminder of Russian and Soviet hockey heritage. And failing to beat Slovakia at the Olympics is a reminder of more recent problems.

Russian teams have now played Slovakia in four consecutive Olympic tournaments, losing three of those and winning in 2014 in a shootout.

The Russians scored twice in the first five minutes at the Gangneung Hockey Center, with Nikolai Prokhorkin scoring off an assist from Vladislav Gavrikov to take the early lead. Minnesota Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov followed up with another, hitting the puck in mid-air past Slovakia goaltender Branislav Konrad.

Slovakia recorded only four shots in the first period, but scored on two of them just before the intermission.

Peter Olvecky first beat Russian goalie Vasily Koshechkin with a wrist shot. Then Martin Bakos, who had been checked into the Russian bench minutes before, made it 2-2 on a breakaway after opposing defenseman Nikita Nesterov lost the puck at the blue line.

The Russians tried to respond after Ceresnak’s goal but couldn’t take advantage of two power plays in the final 10 minutes.

More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

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