It's not that T.J. Oshie is a bad player. He most assuredly is not. With 14 goals and 32 assists in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues, Oshie is tied with Alexander Steen for the team lead in points with 46.
But it's in the shootout session that Oshie's star shines brightest. A 50 percent success rate in shootouts is considered outstanding. This season, Oshie is 7-for-10, including two game-winners. That's out of this world.
On Saturday, Oshie's special talent came to light on the world stage when the United States and Russia, two of the tournament's favorites, fought to a 2-2 draw after regulation time, and were held scoreless in the five-minute, four-on-four overtime session. Oshie went on to score four times in the shootout session to lead the U.S. To a dramatic 3-2 preliminary round win over Russia before 11,678 mostly partisan fans—including Russian President Vladimir Putin—at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi on Saturday.
After a scoreless first period, the teams traded goals in middle stanza. An even-strength tally by Russia's Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings 9:15 into the second period was matched by a power play goal from U.S. defenseman Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks at the 16:34 mark.
Then, in the third period, the teams again traded goals, with Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks scoring on the power play 9:27 into the period, and Datsyuk tying the game for Russia with 7:16 left in regulation. Greenwich native Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues picked up an assist on Pavelski's goal.
This was an overtime and shootout that almost didn't happen. Late in the third period, Russia's Fedor Tyutin took a shot from just inside the blue line that appeared to beat Quick to the glove side.
“After they called it, I looked back and saw the goal had come off,” said U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick, a Milford native who went on to star with Avon Old Farms, the University of Massachusetts and the Los Angeles Kings. After reviewing the play, the officials ruled that the goal had come off it's moorings before the shot found the back of the net. In accordance with international rules, that nullified the tally (although it would have counted in the NHL).
The game ended with the United States on the power play, stretching 26 seconds into the overtime period. Russian goaltender Sergie Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets was able to hold off the wolves, however.
The U.S. blew a golden opportunity to win the game in regulation when Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy champion emblematic of the NHL's most outstanding goaltender, turned away Patrick Kane of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on a breakaway with just over four minutes left in overtime. Then, with 27 seconds left in the extra session, Bobrovsky later stopped Kane, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, with less than a minute remaining in overtime, sending the game into a shootout.
Or, more precisely, “Oshie Time.”
While many players treat the shootout like a breakaway, rushing the goalie at break-neck speed, Oshie treats his chances as if it were a leisurely skate on a local pond, calmly gliding towards the goal before displaying deft move at the very last second. He opened the shootout by sneaking one through Bobrovsky's five-hole giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead
Ilya Kovalchuk, who skates for SKA St. Petersburg in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, knotted the shootout in the third round. Russia then went right back to Kovalchuk, but Quick stopped him in the fourth round.
After a rare miss by Oshie, Datsyuk gave Russia a 2-1 lead in the top of the fifth. Oshie came right back to knot the score again in the bottom of the fifth. Indeed, after Datsyuk's goal, Oshie would be the only player to find the back of the net for the rest of the shootout, going 4-for-6 and giving the Americans what may have been their most dramatic win since the 1980 Miracle on Ice upset over the Soviet Union in Lake Placid in 1980. The American win disappointed many of the 11,678 in attendance, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When asked after the game what his focus was on, Oshie responded “Just scoring goals. Score as many goals as you can. Keep the 'tender guessing, which I thought I did a pretty good job of.”
“And we don’t get the win without Quickie shutting the door.”
Did he feel uncomfortable being the designated shooter for the U.S.?
“I kept looking back to see if anyone else was coming out,” said Oshie—which rhymes with Sochi. “I told them I was running out of moves. It was a little nerve racking, but it was fun. It was a great atmosphere out there.”
“Enjoy this win, because we have another big one coming up tomorrow,” added Quick, who upped his Olympic record to 2-1, but wasn't sure if he would get the nod vs. Slovenia on Sunday. Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings and Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres are also on the American roster.
Quick then went on to thank everyone from his native Connecticut for the support they've shown—not just in this tournament, but throughout his entire career.
“I appreciate all the support,” he continued. “We have some great players here from Connecticut.”
Besides Quick, the U.S. roster also includes defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who resides in White Plains but was born in Greenwich, as well as forward Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens. Pacioretty hails from New Caanan. And then there is Ryan Callahan, a right winger for the New York Rangers. Although Callahan is from Rochester, NY, Callahan played in Hartford for the Wolf Pack from 2006-2008.
“This [tournament] will be great for Connecticut youth hockey,” added Quick.
Next up for the U.S., will be Slovenia (1-1), 3-1 winners over Slovakia on Saturday. The game will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday.