As I live in southern California, on Feb 15, 2014, I was up at 4:30 a.m. to watch live, as Team USA was playing in a huge game against Russia.
It was well worth the sleep deprivation.
This was Olympic ice hockey at it's best. The energy was incredible, there was a palpable buzz throughout the Arena.
It was a classic matchup from the talented forwards, all the way back to the net, where Sergei Bobrovsky was opposite Jonathan Quick.
As the puck dropped, the host Russian squad seemed to be the more poised of the two teams. Though the Americans were not outmatched in intensity, as a unit they were not playing quite as well. Fortunately, they escaped the first period with the game still scoreless.
The dedication of the American squad was evident in the second period, as they killed off an early penalty. The penalty kill was highlighted by Ryan Kesler sacrificing his body to block a shot. Kesler wound up taking the slapshot off his right hand, and would play the rest of the game with two fingers taped together.
The Russians got on the board first, when the Russian captain Pavel Datsyuk worked his wizardry as he broke through the neutral zone. He was able to catch defenseman Brooks Orpick, guessing. As Orpik anticipated a move to the outside, the magical Datsyuk jumped into the middle of the ice, and was able to split the defense. Forward Max Pacioretty did his best to backcheck, but to no avail. With three opponents in tow, Pavel streaked in and put the puck past Jonathan Quick, to put the Russians up 1-0 at 9:15 of the second period.
At some point, the term "Datsyukian" may make it's way into the dictionary.
The lead would not last long. Later in the period, Alexander Radulov showed the same lack of discipline which got him banished from the NHL, as he took a gratuitous shot at Dustin Brown nearly 100 feet away from the puck, and on the opposite side of the ice.
On the ensuing Power play, James van Reimsdyk made his presence felt.
Doing yeoman's work down low, 'JVR' had two great scoring chances from point blank range in front of Bobrovsky. On his third chance, he was able to find defenseman Cam Fowler who had sneaked in from the blueline. he deftly slid the biscuit over to the uncovered Fowler who converted into a wide open net at 16:34.
The score was tied 1-1 after two periods, but Patrick Kane had taken a penalty with less than 1 second left, which meant the Russians would open the third with virtually a full 2 mins power play, on freshly resurfaced ice.
As previously stated, there was no lack of intensity from the Americans. They began the third period by holding the Russians shotless on that big power play opportunity.
Through the first three Russian power play chances, the Americans had only allowed 3 shots on goal.
At 3:14 of the third, there was a rather questionable penalty call against Dustin Brown. On the ensuing power play, though the Russians were able to control the puck, there was only one truly great scoring chance, but Quick robbed Evgeni Malkin in the waning moments of the man-advantage, and kept the game tied at 1-1.
Team USA soldiered on, and Radulov took another penalty, and the result was another goal for Team USA. This time it was Kesler, who remained dominant in the faceoff circle despite his injured hand, who would trigger the heroics. Kesler cleanly won the offensive zone faceoff, and got the puck to Kane who fed it cross ice to Pavelski. At 9:27,Pavelski hammered home a one-timer into the short side of the net to give Team USA their first lead of the game, at 2-1.
There is a reason why Datsyuk is on this Russian Olympic team, and a reason why he is so highly regarded as an NHL player; his instincts are truly amazing. Midway through the third period, Dustin Brown again wound up in the penalty box. This time Datsyuk made them pay. With the puck in the offensive zone, Radulov moved down low to screen Jonathan Quick, as Datsyuk dangled the puck to the left of the goal. When Quick peeked out to the right of Radulov, Datsyuk shot the puck left. Score tied, 2-2 with 7:16 to play.
As the game wound down, it appeared as though the Russians had taken the lead, when they had Team USA trapped in it's own end. After sustained pressure, the puck went to the blueline, and Fedor Tyutin ripped a slapshot past Jonathan Quick with less than 3 mins to play. Upon review, the goal was correctly disallowed when it was discovered the net had come dislodged prior to the goal being scored.
Regulation time ended with a 2-2 deadlock.
Midway through the 5 min OT period, Pavelski tried to return Kane's favor, as his stretch pass sent Kane in on a breakaway. Bobrovsky stood tall, and denied Kane his most grand scoring opportunity.
As the scoreless OT ended, we had no idea that such a glorious shootout round was in store.
Team USA chose T.J. Oshie, James Van Riemsdyk, and Joe Pavelski.
Russia countered with Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, and Ilya Kovalchuk.
USA went first; Oshie went five-hole to put Team USA up 1-0. Bobrovsky stopped the next two American shooters, as Quick stopped the first two Russians. One more stop, and USA would win the game. It was not to be, as Kovalchuk beat Quick, on the low glove side.
Amazingly, the shootout went eight rounds deep, as Quick and Bobrovsky staged a terrific goaltending duel. After the first round of shooters, Oshie went five straight times; for the Russians, Kovalchuk and Datsyuk alternated.
Ultimately the shootout would end as it began, with Oshie going five-hole, this time to give the U.S. a hard fought well-earned victory.
Team USA outscored Russia 4-3 in the shootout (Oshie was 4 of 6), and won the game by a official final score of 3-2.
Going into this game, Russia was considered the stronger team. This was not the case today.
This was a great win, but the availability of Ryan Kesler for future games may be of concern, as it is not known how badly his injured hand was injured.
Team USA is undefeated (def. Slovakia and Russia) in Group play, and will finish Group play, against Slovenia on Feb 16 at 7:30 a.m. ET. The game will air live on NBCSN.
If you wish to follow T.J. Oshie on Twitter, his handle is @Osh74.
Team USA Forward line combinations:
9Zach Parise/24Ryan Callahan/42David Backes
17Ryan Kesler/23Dustin Brown/88Patrick Kane
26Paul Stastny/67Max Pacioretty/74T.J. Oshie
8Joe Pavelski/21James van Riemsdyk/81Phil Kessel
3Cam Fowler/22Kevin Shattenkirk
20Ryan Suter/27Ryan McDonagh
44Brooks Orpik/4John Carlson-7Paul Martin(Carlson and Martin rotated shifts)