(Corrects Russia’s place in standings in final paragraph)
By Dan Burns
GANGNEUNG, South Korea, Feb 16 (Reuters) - After a stunning opening loss to Slovakia, Kiril Kaprizov scored a hat-trick as the Olympic Athletes from Russia stormed back on Friday to crush Slovenia 8-2 in preliminary round play.
The Russians, the tournament’s best team on paper and led by former NHL all stars Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, looked set to take the Games by storm when they netted two early goals against the Slovaks.
But the Big Red Machine’s motor ran silent for the next 74 minutes as they lost 3-2 to Slovakia and they started slowly against the Slovenians.
The Russians got back on track late in the first period with two goals within 22 seconds, the first from Sergei Mozyakin on a powerplay and the second from Kovalchuk who buried a shot from the point unassisted.
The floodgates opened in the second period as the Russians scored four times through Alexander Barabanov, Ilya Kablukov, Kaprizov and Kovalchuk, who also had an assist on the Kablukov goal.
Kovalchuk carried the puck into the Slovenia zone, threaded through two defenders and looped behind their goal before feeding Kablukov in front to knock it home.
Captain Jan Mursak scored the first goal for the Slovenians, who came from two goals down in the third period to beat the United States in overtime on Wednesday. Ziga Pance scored their second with under a minute left.
All four teams in Group B have a win and a loss each, but the U.S. top the standings with four points because their defeat by Slovenia came in overtime.
The Russians are third due to the head-to-head loss against Slovakia, and they play the Americans on Saturday when Slovenia take on Slovakia. (Reporting by Dan Burns, editing by Ed Osmond)