USA forward James van Riemsdyk, defenseman Cam Fowler and USA forward Phil Kessel celebrate a goal by Fowler in the second period of a men's ice hockey game against Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
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Updated: February 15, 2014 7:39PM
SOCHI, Russia — In the beginning, it was a rematch of one of the greatest games ever played, a rivalry of epic proportions, the Cold War somehow reborn on ice. In the end, it was just two points in pool play, an appetizer, a mere harbinger of things to come.
In between? The United States’ 3-2 shootout victory over Russia on Saturday afternoon was a hockey game. A riveting and rollicking, crazy and controversial, unbelievable and unforgettable hockey game between two of the most talent-laden rosters in the world — superstars left, right and center racing up and down the big ice, creating scoring chances, delivering big hits and playing a thriller that more than lived up to the considerable hype.
Oh, there was flag-waving and horn-blowing and crazy dressing and bilingual chanting and everything else you’d expect from the most anticipated game of the Olympics — a showdown between the United States and the host Russians that was dripping with history and intrigue, with Vladimir Putin looking on from a center-ice box.
But even if this game — a game that kept almost ending, then somehow went on forever — had been played in a vacuum, it would have left its mark.
“It was awesome,” American forward Joe Pavelski said. “Whatever type of game you want to explain it as — it was that.”
Shootout specialist T.J. Oshie scored four times on six tries in an eight-round shootout to close out the thriller — even the gimmicky shootout created unparalleled drama and tension in this one. International rules allow a coach to re-use a player after three rounds, and American coach Dan Bylsma didn’t hesitate, repeatedly sending the Blues forward over the boards and out to center ice in front of 11,000-plus fans.
“I aged a couple of years in that shootout,” Bylsma said.
Oshie, who leads the NHL with a 7-for-10 record in shootouts this season, slowly skated in on Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky each time, showing off a vast array of moves. If not for a spectacular stick save by Bobrovsky, the game would have ended one round earlier. Oshie’s Blues teammate, David Backes, was sitting next to Patrick Kane on the bench, describing what Oshie might do next.
“I was waiting to see if someone else was going, but my number kept being called,” Oshie said.
Kane, one of the league’s best over the years, but 1-for-11 this season, didn’t lobby Bylsma to get in.
“No, not really,” he said. “With my record this year, they didn’t really need to call on me. Especially when we’ve got a couple other guys that can score.”
Kane had his own breakaway chance in overtime, but he went low on Bobrovsky, who closed his pads in time.
“Your heart starts pumping for sure when you have that chance,” Kane said. “Would have been nice to finish it off. Kind of wish I would have made a different move.”
Regulation was just as tense, and just as entertaining.
The pace was extraordinary early, and things quickly got heated. A few minutes into the game, Ryan Callahan pulled Alex Ovechkin into a scrum behind the Russian net after getting stopped by Sergei Bobrovsky, and a fight nearly broke out. Brooks Orpik plastered Valeri Nichushkin into the boards. Slava Voynov drilled Los Angeles Kings teammate Dustin Brown. Ryan Kesler dumped Evgeni Malkin on his backside right after the two squared off for a faceoff. Brown crushed Anton Belov. And on and on it went.
Russia, buoyed by the overwhelmingly pro-Russia crowd — though more than a few “USA!” chants snuck in there — controlled the game early, but the first period ended scoreless, if breathless.
Russia finally broke through midway through the second period, as Pavel Datsyuk split American defensemen John Carlson and Brooks Orpik before beating Jonathan Quick on the glove side with a perfect wrist shot. The goal unleashed a Russian roar that shook the Bolshoy Ice Dome to its core.
But Team USA handled the pressure, and got the equalizer on a power play with 3:26 left in the second period, as Cam Fowler followed a James Van Riemsdyk shot and jammed the loose puck past Bobrovsky to make it 1-1.
Pavleski then scored a power-play goal off a tremendous Kane cross-ice pass — the duo showed immediate and tremendous chemistry — midway through the third period to give the Americans a 2-1 lead.
But with Brown in the box for the second time in the third period, Datsyuk evened it up. Facing the Russian’s Murderer’s Row of a power play, the Americans — built with penalty-killers and other specialists and role players in mind (such as Oshie) rather than simply the 25 “best” players — had killed off four straight penalties, with Ryan McDonagh leaping in front of a few Ovechkin blasts, and Kesler taking one off his left hand that forced him to briefly leave the game. But Datsyuk fired a shot through an Alexander Radulov screen that beat Quick to tie it at 2-2 at 12:44.
Then came the controversy. Fedor Tyutin appeared to have given Russia a 3-2 lead with less than five minutes to go, but the net was just inches off its mooring on one side, and the goal was reviewed, then waved off, to deafening roars of disapproval from the 11,000-plus in attendance.
“It definitely was a goal,” Ovechkin said. “Nobody touched the net, the goalie touched the net and pulled it out. But the referee obviously didn’t give him two minutes.”
With a second life, the Americans even got a power play with 1:32 to go in regulation, but couldn’t convert, setting the stage for overtime and the marathon shootout.
It was only a preliminary game — the U.S. gets two points for the overtime win (instead of three for a regulation win), and Russia gets a point for going to overtime. All teams advance to the elimination stage, and Russia still has a chance at a bye to the quarterfinals if it beats Slovakia in regulation and Canada beats Norway in regulation on Sunday.
But at the same time, it was a lot more than that.
“It was amazing,” Kane said. “I don’t think anyone could have asked for a better game.”