The long-awaited battle between the Russian Federation and USA was all the rage here at the Sochi Olympics all week. Never mind the USA ski slopestyle sweep, this hockey match was on everyone’s radar.
Rising from the 180-minute, marathon-like match today was Team USA, who defeated the highly favored Russians by a nail-biting overtime score of 3-2 in this controversial contest.
Leading up to this second match of the preliminary round, each team carried momentum forward with Russia defeating Slovenia 5-2, and USA whipping Slovakia 7-1 – yielding the Americans a point differential edge in this pool.
Within all-time Olympic competition, the Russian Federation was riding a slight advantage over the United States with a 2-1-1 (W-L-T) record.
The large Bolshoi Stadium nestled within the Olympic Park seats over 11,000 fans. Today, it was fully awash with red white and blue – a coincidental celebration of each team’s colors.
During the introductions, the Russians were welcomed by blaring vuvuzelas, chants of “Go Russia," and heart-thumping music – emblematic of this national sport’s popularity. While the U.S. fans, outnumbered by an estimated ratio of 10:1, cheered their line-up as best they could.
The first period featured aggressive offense, and furious defensive board hitting. Behind Alec Ovechkin, the Russians racked up more shots on goal (13-10). Team USA held its own by deftly maneuvering over a wider rink which it is unaccustomed to, and dominating the boards.
A few scrums broke-out, one of which was on the heels of a David Backes’s high flyer was gloved by goalie Sergei Bobrovski.
In the second stanza, recognizing that its reputation and pride was on the line, Russia played more aggressively, and fought through the American defense with breakaways.
This tenacity paid off as Russia’s Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings) drilled the puck past goalie Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) at the 10:45 mark to nab an early 1-0 advantage. Andrei Markov and Alexander Rudolov contributed with assists.
The U.S. squad responded in kind with 3:36 left. As players battled for the puck in front of the net, Cam Fowler (Anaheim Ducks) stuffed it in. James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel were credited with assists in knotting the score, 1-1.
USA overcame its shots-on-goal deficit, by besting Russia 13-8.
In the outset of the third period, Russia failed to capitalize on the opening power play, firing off just one shot goal.
Seizing upon this missed opportunity, USA’s Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks) drilled a shot beyond the outstretched Bobrovski to regain the lead. Patrick Kane and Kevin Shattenkirk supported with assists.
Prodded by a raucous crowd, Russia fought back - wasting no time in another power play advantage. Datsyuk, with assists by Andrei Markov and Alex Ovechkin, scored his second goal for a 2-2 deadlock, with 7:16 remaining.
At the 4:40 mark, Russia’s Fyodor Tyutin (Columbus Blue Jackets) then ripped a long slap shot past Quick into the net that sent the partisan house on fire. But the celebration abruptly ended by officials who determined that the net was off its mooring at the time of the goal.
As regulation time neared an end, both teams tried to beat the clock with furious stick play at each end, yet without success. At this stage, the Americans had a 31-28 shots on goal advantage.
The five-minute overtime period, pitting only five men against each other, was highlighted by a breakaway streak down the middle by Patrick Kane whose shot was deflected.
To break this deadlock, the shootout round consisted of three players from each team. Representing Team USA was T.J. Oshie, Pavelski, and van Riemsdyk. For the Russians, the dual goal scorer Datrsyuk, Yevgeni Malkin, and Ilya Kovalchuk were tapped.
Each of these three drove towards the goal, amidst a hushed crowd, to attempt a score in this do-or-die shootout. At the end of the three-shot round, the score was tied 1-1 with Oshie (St. Louis Blues) and Kovalchuk scoring.
After this first round, each coach could choose who among the trio to shoot. Coach Dan Bylsma opted to stick with Oshie who is well-known for having a hot hand in similar NHL contests.
It soon became a battle between Oshie and goalie Bobrovski, as well as the tandem of Datsyuk and Kovalchuk who alternated.
For the fourth through ninth rounds, USA and Russia competed head-to-head. When one scored, the other matched. By the tenth round, the crowd was getting anxious, but not the cool and collected Oshie.
Coach Bylsma once more went to his “go to guy” who, following Kovalchuk’s missed goal, slapped a shot into the goal to seal a 3-2 win for America. The score marked his fourth goal out of six tries.
Regarding the pressure he faced, Oshie said, “I knew what was on the line, but I went into it trying to score every time.”
Relflecting on this historic contest, Fowler said, “To play such a good team in a country where hockey is so big, it’s a cool experience."
USA next faces Slovenia on Sunday. With a win, the squad could very well position itself as the top seed entering into the quarterfinals next week.
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