SOCHI, Russia (USA TODAY) – Phil Kessel is the hottest hockey scorer in this galaxy and the next.
Not Sidney Crosby, not Alex Ovechkin, not Pavel Datsyuk, not even American T.J. Oshie, can match the numbers Kessel has put up in the past month.
Kessel scored three goals, giving him four for the tournament, to lift the U.S. men's Olympic team to a 5-1 win that will give the Americans (3-0) a bye into the quarterfinals.
The Americans will be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed going to the quarterfinals on Wednesday, depending upon what happens in the Canada vs. Finland game later Sunday.
The speedy Kessel came into the Olympics with 10 goals and 13 assists in his last 12 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also registered two assists in his first game against Slovakia, meaning Kessel has 14 goals and 15 assists in his past 15 games.
Coming into the tournament, it was thought that Phil might not even be the highest-scoring Kessel in the tournament because his sister Amanda is key forward for the U.S. women's team. Going into the men's quarterfinals and women's semifinals, Phil has a 6-4 lead over Amanda in points. She has two goals and two assists.
Ryan Miller got the start over Jonathan Quick in net against the Slovenia, an expected move because the Americans were playing back-to-back games. Miller, the hero of USA's 2010 silver medal run, had 17 saves, his shutout ruined when Marcel Rodman scored with 1:18 left.
Quick is expected to be back in net when the Americans enter the medal round.
The Americans downed the Slovenians without being particularly sharp in the contest. They didn't have the same jump and intensity level that they displayed in the dramatic 3-2 shootout win against Russia that transformed Oshie into a national sports hero.
Predictably having a letdown after the big win, the Americans still were able to grab a 2-0 lead, thanks to the work of the line of James van Riemsdyk, Joe Pavelski and Kessel. Pavelski set up Kessel for goals at 1:04 and 4:33. The Americans had only seven shots on goal in the period, and Kessel scored on two of them.
Sharper in the second period, Kessel completed his hat trick at 11:05 of the period on a set-up from Van Riemsdyk and Pavelski.
A little more than a minute later, New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored from the right wing circle on a nifty set up by Blake Wheeler.
David Backes scored in the third period to make it a 5-0 game.