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USA vs Russia Game Becomes Instant Classic

Saturday, 02.15.2014 / 4:36 PM / News
By Shawn P. Roarke  - NHL.com Managing Editor
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USA vs Russia Game Becomes Instant Classic
Saturday afternoon at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, Russia and the United States played in a great hockey game in the 2014 Sochi Olympics; an instant classic.

SOCHI -- Greatness can't be bequeathed. It must be taken.

Saturday afternoon at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, Russia and the United States played in a great hockey game in the 2014 Sochi Olympics; an instant classic.

The Americans emerged victorious, 3-2 in the shootout, but it took some high drama, sublime displays of skill, a bit of controversy, eight rounds of the shootout and a career-defining performance from American forward T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues before greatness was finally earned and rightfully granted.

Nobody that played in the game will ever forget it; none will be the same after it.

"It was awesome," said American forward Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks. "Whatever type of game you want to explain it as, it was that."

It matters not that the Americans won nothing with the victory other than an extra point in the Group A standings and a bit of pride. The U.S. team could still lose the group with a stinker against a scrappy Slovenia team Sunday (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) and the hurdles in the knockout stage are almost too difficult to navigate.

The Americans beat host Canada four years ago in Vancouver in preliminary play. It was a statement game; an instant classic. A week later, the Americans were wearing silver instead of gold because Canada won the game that truly mattered.

The implications of this game will be left for history to debate. On Saturday, as another perfect day at the base of the Caucasus Mountains was punctuated by the sun being extinguished by the Black Sea just outside the Bolshoy arena, these two fierce hockey rivals captivated the eyes focused on the Olympics and wouldn't let go.

Heading into Sochi, this Group A showdown between the United States and Russia was billed as a great game, the host nation playing the biggest villain from its glorious hockey past in one of the crown-jewel buildings of the Olympic complex.

It was to be the Miracle on Ice in reverse. The Americans were sending their hot-shot team -- the defending Olympic silver medalist -- to Russia to face a host team eager to prove its merits after an embarrassing showing in Vancouver in 2010.

Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary Russian goaltender who played a central figure in the 1980 passion play in the mountains of New York, took center stage at a press conference earlier this week, banging the drum for the Russian team. The American players from that magical sporting moment were interviewed and quoted repeatedly in the run-up to this game by journalists eager to paint this prelim game as a rematch of the Miracle on Ice; a rematch on par with the "Thrilla in Manila," the third and final fight between rivals Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali.

Only these players weren't buying what was being sold for catchy headlines. For them, history was just that, history. They were ready to write their own narrative.

They did, authoring a hockey tale with enough plot twists to satisfy the harshest critic.

The Russians scored first, off the brilliance of Pavel Datsyuk, playing on a bad leg. Cam Fowler, perhaps the last defenseman selected for this team, tied it for the Americans. The United States forged ahead on a goal by Pavelski, made possible by a brilliant pass from Patrick Kane. Russia answered, again through Datsyuk, as the teams traded punches in the third period.

Then, the Russians appeared to land the knockout blow in the form of a Fedor Tyutin slap shot that rose over the shoulder of goaltender Jonathan Quick and clanged off the bar in the back of the net. Only the net was just perceptibly off its moorings, knocked loose earlier in the sequence by Quick's leg pad.

Slava Voynov, a teammate of Quick's with the Los Angeles Kings but an opponent Saturday, suggested Quick may have intentionally unmoored the net, adding a little international intrigue to the proceedings.

The Chicago Blackhawks' Kane, perhaps the most talented natural scorer on the American team, twice had the game on his stick after the disallowed goal, but could not convert either time.

The five minute four-on-four overtime finished in a blur, allowing a much-need exhale. After 65 minutes of unequalled artistry interspersed with spellbinding savagery, the contest moved to the shootout, a tiebreaker decried by its critics as a skills competition.

Nobody, however, was decrying the skills displayed in this memorable shootout. The Detroit Red Wings' Datsyuk was at his absolute Datsyukian best. Former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk scored a shootout goal seemingly filled with impudence as he casually flipped the puck past Quick.

"I don't know how you do that," American forward David Backes said of the Kovalchuk goal, which he termed a fade-away flipper, "but I might practice that on Monday."

It was Backes' teammate, and road roommate, with the Blues who had the final say though, scoring his fourth shootout goal of the night, on his sixth attempt, to secure the victory.

He zigged one way, zagged the other, slowly; the puck on his stick almost hypnotically as he cruised toward Sergei Bobrovsky, the Russian goalie. Then, as soon as he saw an opening, he snapped his wrists violently, propelling the puck through the small opening between the goalie's leg pads.

Game over.

Greatness granted.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 ANA 48 32 10 6 143 124 70
2 NSH 46 31 10 5 141 107 67
3 STL 46 29 13 4 148 111 62
4 CHI 47 30 15 2 148 108 62
5 WPG 49 26 15 8 138 122 60
6 SJS 48 25 17 6 131 132 56
7 VAN 46 26 17 3 124 118 55
8 CGY 48 26 19 3 140 126 55
9 LAK 47 20 15 12 129 126 52
10 COL 49 20 18 11 128 141 51
11 DAL 47 21 19 7 146 154 49
12 MIN 47 21 20 6 130 138 48
13 ARI 47 16 25 6 108 160 38
14 EDM 48 12 27 9 110 160 33

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 48 24 18 10 42
L. Couture 48 18 24 2 42
J. Thornton 44 10 27 0 37
B. Burns 48 11 24 -6 35
P. Marleau 48 9 24 -10 33
T. Wingels 47 11 14 -2 25
J. Braun 47 1 18 4 19
T. Hertl 48 8 9 -2 17
M. Vlasic 47 6 10 13 16
J. Sheppard 42 4 9 -2 13
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Niemi 19 11 5 .912 2.57
A. Stalock 5 5 1 .905 2.65
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