The USA-Russia Olympic hockey rivalry reached another high point on Feb. 15. Of course, the U.S. and Russian hockey teams weren't playing for the gold medal or even a berth in the finals, and the U.S's 3-2 shootout victory wasn't an Olympic miracle. Nevertheless, the Americans sent an early statement and broke the host country's hearts by pulling out a victory from the jaws of defeat.
The U.S. could have lost several times in the shootout, yet it kept sending St. Louis Blues' shootout expert T.J. Oshie out there to keep it afloat. The shootout went eight rounds, with Oshie taking six of the Americans' shots and connecting on his last four -- including the game-winner.
To most of the Russians in the crowd and on the ice, the game never should have gone to a shootout. It had looked like Russia had pulled ahead by 3-2 with under five minutes left, but a late review determined that the net was off its moorings right before Fedor Tyutin's go-ahead goal.
However, many thought that U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick knocked the net loose on purpose -- and the goal would have stood under NHL rules anyway. But in the Olympics, the Americans were let off the hook and survived until Oshie took over the shootout.
The Russians weren't eliminated with the loss and will still likely reach the quarterfinals from Group A, along with the U.S. Still, a likely second place finish will make Russia's route a little harder, while America will have a psychological edge if there's a rematch in the medal rounds. A win over the Americans on home ice could have been an even bigger boost to the Russians, and it was certainly within reach.
Now that the U.S. has a boost, it must be conscious of avoiding a letdown against Slovenia in its preliminary round finale on Feb. 16. After that comes the real race to the gold medal -- to which the USA and Russia have already set the bar pretty high for thrills and suspense. If this kind of game is played in the medal rounds, then the Olympics will have a few more signature moments ahead.