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Kessel's hat trick powers U.S. to easy win over Slovenia

<p>Heroic efforts from T.J. Oshie and Jonathan Quick were not required for the United States on Sunday against Slovenia. Phil Kessel and Ryan Miller made sure of that.</p>

Sochi, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - Heroic efforts from T.J. Oshie and Jonathan Quick were not required for the United States on Sunday against Slovenia. Phil Kessel and Ryan Miller made sure of that.

Kessel scored twice in the first 4:33 of the contest en route to a natural hat trick and Miller made 17 saves in place of a resting Quick for the Americans in a 5-1 victory that clinched a bye into the quarterfinals of the Olympic hockey tournament.

Ryan McDonagh and David Backes also scored for the United States, which avoided a letdown after its dramatic shootout win against Russia on Saturday. Oshie scored four times in the shootout and Quick came up with enough stops during the extra phase to help the Americans gain the valuable extra point, which enabled the U.S. to enter Sunday's contest needing only a win to earn an extra day off heading into the second week of the tournament.

The Americans finished with three wins and eight points to claim first place in Group A, bypassing the qualification playoff on Tuesday. The U.S. will next play again on Wednesday as the second overall seed against the winner of Tuesday's contest between the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Joe Pavelski assisted on all three goals by Kessel, who became the first American with a hat trick in Olympic play since John LeClair in 2002 against Finland.

Marcel Rodman scored with 17.6 seconds remaining to avoid the shutout for Slovenia, which was coming off its first-ever Olympic win on Saturday against Slovakia. Luca Gracnar stopped 23 shots in defeat.

Kessel gave the United States a 1-0 lead just 64 seconds into the contest. He took a pass from Pavelski at the Slovenia blue line and made a neat move through the right circle past defenseman Mitja Robar before slipping a shot through Gracnar.

The same duo increased the American lead at the 4:33 mark. Pavelski chased the puck down in the Slovenia zone and made a pass from the right side of the cage toward the top of the crease for an onrushing Kessel, who knocked the puck out of midair and into the net.

Slovenia carried play for most of the final 10 minutes of the opening period and the early portion of the second, but Miller was up to the task and helped the Americans maintain their lead until Kessel and Pavelski struck again.

Pavelski rifled a shot on net from the right circle with James van Riemsdyk providing a perfect screen. The rebound kicked directly to the left side of the crease and Kessel was there to knock it home for the natural hat trick.

Just 1:12 later, McDonagh scored on a one-timer from the right circle to make it 4-0.

Backes added a goal at 3:26 of the third before Rodman spoiled what would have been Miller's second career Olympic shutout.

Slovenia is seeded eighth for the elimination round and will face Austria on Tuesday with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals against top-seeded Sweden.

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