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February 17, 2014

U.S. Gold now clearly in reach

SOCHI, Russia — Behind a hat trick from Phil Kessel, Team USA beat Slovenia, 5-1, on Sunday afternoon and clinched a spot in Wednesday’s quarterfinals by winning Group A.

With a goal differential of plus-10 over three games, the Americans announced themselves as one of the favorites to win gold in Sochi.

“This is a chance for us to have a moment, this generation of players,” Team USA forward David Backes said. “We’ve got some great inspiration. We don’t want to take anything away from what those other teams did (in 1960 and 1980), but we feel like we’ve got an opportunity to do something special here, and we’re going to put everything into it.”

The Americans had a tough challenge, having to recover from an emotional win on Saturday against the Russians and come back a day later to face a Slovenia team that had just knocked off Slovakia in a stunning upset.

But Kessel wouldn’t allow the Slovenians — and the Russian pro-Slovenia crowd at Shayba Arena — to even think about another one. He scored two goals in the first five minutes and added his third to give Team USA a 3-0 lead in the second period. Kessel leads the Olympics with seven points.

Team USA coach Dan Bylsma started Ryan Miller at goaltender, giving Johnathan Quick the day off.

Now the Americans will wait to see how the tournament bracket looks after the rest of Sunday’s games are completed.

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