SOCHI, Russia – It was a game the hockey world had circled on the calendar since the Olympic schedule was released last July.
And by all accounts it lived up to all the hype as the U.S. and Russia waged an epic battle of Olympic proportions that left the capacity crowd of 11,678, including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on the edge of their seats at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Saturday.
After 65 minutes and eight rounds of a shootout, T.J. Oshie scored his fourth goal in six chances to give the U.S. a 3-2 victory in what has been dubbed as an instant Olympic classic.
“It was out of this world. I think everyone who was there, you can’t go away disappointed with the way that game was played,” said David Backes, Oshie’s teammate in St. Louis.
“Maybe the finish is a little stinging to the Russian fans, but they played great and it could have easily went the other way.”
To say that the game was tense from the outset wouldn’t do it justice. With first place on the line in Group A and a possible bye into the quarterfinals, both teams were cautious from the outset, keenly aware of each other's quick-strike capabilities.
The Russians drew first blood at the 9:15 mark of the second period as Pavel Datsuyk took a long stretch pass from Andrei Markov, split the U.S. defense and wristed a low shot past U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick, who once again got the start in goal.
Displaying the talent that helped lead the Los Angeles Kings to win the Stanley Cup in 2012, Quick was on his game again tonight, stymieing a lineup loaded with some of the most dynamic scorers in the game. In addition to turning aside 29 Russian shots in regulation and the five-minute overtime period, Quick turned back five shots in the shootout, including Ilya Kovalchuk’s final shot.
“I had a few opportunities to make a save earlier in the shootout and win the game and I wasn’t able to do it, so fortunately T.J. kept scoring for us,” Quick said.
The U.S. responded later in the second period on a power-play goal by defenseman Cam Fowler, who had a goal-mouth pass from James van Riemsdyk deflect off his skate and past Russian netminder Sergei Bobrovski. Earlier in the power play, van Riemsdyk set the play in motion by trying a between the legs flick shot that almost caught the Russian goaltender by surprise.
“Sometimes you’re so close to the goalie that they poke check you, so I started trying that. I haven’t scored that way but it creates a lot of havoc and usually there’s a good rebound chance that comes after it,” said van Riemsdyk, who was once again brilliant playing on a line with his Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Phil Kessel, and Joe Pavelski.
The U.S. penalty killing units were outstanding, clogging the passing lanes that prevented the Russians from executing the back door plays they are so famous for. When they did tee up a shot, the U.S penalty killers like Ryan McDonagh and Ryan Kesler were diving in front of shots.
On one Russian power play Alex Ovechkin set up shop near the top of the left faceoff dot. McDonagh dove in front of his first shot, and the puck went off the backside of his breezers. Ovechkin was back seconds later, ringing a shot off the goal post. And then Kesler dove to block a shot that left him stunned, but he quickly returned to the ice after some quick repairs.
“It takes a lot of courage and we had several guys who were doing that today. We know where they’re dangerous and we know that’s where Alex likes to shoot from,” said head coach Dan Bylsma, who sees plenty of Ovechkin during the NHL regular season.
“That’s laying it on the line and putting it out there and our guys certainly did that tonight against maybe the hardest shot in the world. We needed every bit of that to get the win in this game.”
Pavelski gave the U.S. a short-lived lead midway through the final frame, sneaking in from the point on the power play to bang in a beautiful pass from Patrick Kane that threaded the needle between several Russian defenders.
“That was my first Olympic goal. It took a while but that will stick in my mind a little bit,” said Pavelski, who is one of 13 returning players from the silver-medal winning team in 2010.
Datsuyk’s second goal of the game, a laser that beat Quick low to the short side on the power play, sent the crowd into a state of euphoria.
“Russia is a great team,” Quick said. “They brought their game and we brought our game and it could’ve gone either way. There’s a very fine line between winning and losing but we were able to get the win tonight, which is great.”
The momentum swung with 4:40 left in the third period as Fyodor Tyutin ripped a blast under the crossbar, but the officials reviewed the play and ruled that the net had come off its moorings.
The best chance in overtime came when Kane got behind the Russian defense on a breakaway, but Bobrovski showed the style and poise that won him the Vezina Trophy last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, closing the door as the U.S. sniper tried to sneak it through the five hole.
“Your heart starts pumping when you have that kind of chance,” said Kane, who was already doing a little Monday morning quarterbacking over the play.
“I wish I could have made a different move and finished it off. But what are you going to do in the heat of battle? You try something and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
The U.S. will have little time to celebrate their huge win before taking on Slovenia in less than 24 hours.
Led by Anze Kopitar who is Quick's teammate with the Kings, Slovenia shocked Slovakia, 3-1, earlier in the day. It marked their first victory in Olympic competition.
“To play a team like Russia and how great they are and to go back and forth, it was a great game. It was exciting for the fans, it was exciting for the players to be part of it,” said Quick.
“At the end of the day it’s just a couple of points. We have a game tomorrow against Slovenia and they’re coming off an emotional win. They’re going to bring a lot of energy tomorrow and we have to be ready for that.”
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Tag(s): 2014 - Sochi, Russia