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Joe Pavelski helps Team USA earn shootout win over Team Russia

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Team USA men's hockey game

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In the biggest men's hockey game of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Team USA earned the extra point over the hometown Team Russia Saturday, February 15. Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks is among the pictured stars of the game for giving his country its only (short-lived) lead in regulation.

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The shootout victory puts the Americans in the driver's seat to win Group A, having already beaten the two best teams. Sunday they play Team Slovenia, who just earned its first-ever Olympic win by beating a reeling Team Slovakia Saturday. Games on consecutive days are harder for teams that lack depth, making it even more difficult for an opponent led by only one NHL player (Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings) to beat one filled with only top-end talent.

Any win over the Slovenians will earn America the all-important bye in the first medal round. Not having to play back-to-back games should help with the tough matchup likely to come in the quarterfinals. Having the higher seed can help after that, and they are still in reach of the top spot if Team Canada and Team Finland are tied at the end of regulation.

The loss is going to seriously hurt Russia's chances of winning gold in its backyard. A regulation win over Slovakia Sunday could mean earning the one bye that does not go to a group winner. That is more important for this contender that relies so heavily on its top two lines than for any other top team.

The win did not come without some controversy. A Russian goal was disallowed when it was discovered the net was a little off its moorings. It would have counted in the NHL but not at the Sochi Olympics, and Alex Ovechkin and his coach accused American goalie Jonathan Quick of doing it intentionally (which would be a penalty).

The first period was hard-fought and both teams played tight games. The first score did not come until 10:45 left in the second period: Alexander Radulov advanced the puck to Andrei Markov, who found Pavel Datsyuk splitting the defenders for the wrist-shot goal.

It took over seven minutes for the USA to counter. Thanks to a dumb penalty by Radulov 30 meters from the puck, Russia was on the penalty kill for the third time. Phil Kessel advanced the puck to Toronto Maple Leafs teammate James van Riemsdyk, who forced the defenders deep enough for Cam Fowler to pinch way down to put home the loose puck.

Another Radulov penalty led to the go-ahead goal 9:27 into the third: Kevin Shattenkirk got the puck to Patrick Kane on the right wing, who threaded a pass through the crease to Pavelski on the other side pinching down from the blue line that he plays for Team USA's power play just like he does for San Jose.

Unfortunately for America, Datsyuk struck again 3:17 later with another assist from Markov. It looked like Fedor Tyutin had given the home team the lead minutes later, but the game went to a shootout. T.J. Oshie scored on his first shot, but Ilya Kovalchuk tied it up on the last chance for the Russians after misses by Evgeni Malkin, van Riemsdyk, Datsyuk and Pavelski.

From there, Oshie took every shot for the Americans (hitting three of the next five) while Kovalchuk and Datsyuk alternated for Russia. It took five sudden-death rounds until there was finally a score that was unanswered in the skills competition.

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