2014 Winter Olympics: Big Wins for Finland, Canada and Russia as Tournament Favorites Roll

Streeter Lecka

Both Dallas Stars skaters in the tournament scored a goal in their team's opening game.

It was a good day to be a Dallas Stars fan watching the Winter Olympics.

Valeri Nichushkin, a late insertion into the Russian lineup, scored a hard-driving and critical goal for his team, putting them up by two over the Slovenians in a game Russia eventually won 5-2. Stars captain Jamie Benn helped lower the blood pressure of 30 million or more nervous Canadians as he put his team up 2-0 in the second period. It was a classic Benn corner snipe.

And in the schadenfreude department, Tuukka Rask looked shaky in net during Team Finland's 8-4 win over the Austrians, a fact that some believe led to Kari Lehtonen getting the start tomorrow against Norway. That should be a good cross-Nordic grudge match.

What, the games had meaning outside of the Stars players performances? Well then.

The Finns opened the day with something that would end up being a bit of a theme - a highly touted team struggling early (or at least, struggling for separation on the scoreboard) against a decided underdog. It was 2-1 Austria midway through the first after Thomas Hundertpfund beat Rask. But the Finns scored three times in the final 10 minutes, including two in eight seconds in the period's final minute, to take a 4-2 lead into the locker room.

The Austrians made it look good with two goals in the third as Michael Grabner completed his hat trick, but it was all Finns in the second and third of an 8-4 win. Jarkko Immonen and Mikael Granlund had two goals each while Sami Lepisto, Petri Kontiola, Olli Maatta and Jussi Jokinen had the others.

As mentioned, Rask had a bit of a rough day, giving up four goals on just 20 shots. Lehtonen, who was the backup, will be the next to get his shot in the first round.

The Finns have also provided one of the great bits of this tournament, taking advantage of the spring-like weather in Sochi to ride their bicycles to and from the game venue.

I believe Lehtonen is the guy in the middle. He's definitely one of the three because that is the trio of Finnish goalies, who are apparently spending all tournament within 15 feet of each other unless one is playing.

The Russians came next, and again, it was a slow enough start against Slovenia that we entered a period of brief national panic in Sochi. The Russians went up 2-0 in the first behind early goals from Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, but Zega Jeglic tried to single-handedly keep his team in it, scoring twice in the second to send the teams into the second intermission with Russia leading 3-2.

It was Nichushkin who helped the Russians exhale with his goal a little less than four minutes into the third period. Anton Belov and Ilya Kovalchuk also scored for the ultimate home team. The Stars rookie was named the third star of the game for his efforts.

Finally, Benn showed exactly why the Canadian brass chose him for the Olympic team after overlooking him for the orientation camp. In limited ice time, Benn was among the best Canadian players on the ice. He drew the delayed penalty that led to the Canadians first goal from Shea Weber, scored the second himself and was generally a beast. He wasn't named a star of the game - those honors went to Weber, Doughty and Patrice Bergeron - but made a great case for more playing time.

His goal was a pretty snipe from the left side. As the Canadians broke in 3-on-2 (off a smidge of interference from John Tavares), Bergeron found Benn with miles of space in the left circle. He took a beat to settle the puck, then picked the corner for the eventual game-winning goal.

In fact, he was probably the most effective Canadian player relative to ice time. In just 8:52, Benn had a goal, the critical drawn call and three shots. Only one player - Patrick Marleau - had more shots for the Canadians.

Patrick Thoresen gave the Norwegians life in the second period with a tip past Carey Price, but Drew Doughty quickly quashed all hopes of a comeback with a pretty backhand goal of his own.

It might not have been quite the blowout games we were expecting, save the United States rout of Slovakia, but the results basically went to form. The tournament favorites with heavy NHL contingents handled their business and got the three points. Full tournament action from groups B and C (aka, not the groups with Russia and the USA) feature in tomorrow's Olympic play.

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