The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 02/15/2014 9:32 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 02/15/2014 2:06 PM
SOCHI, Russia - It was a game worthy of an Olympic hockey final. Full of drama, excitement and not without controversy.
There were heroes and villains, and a prolonged edge-of-your-seat finale. All before a pumped-up crowd of red, white and blue, in various permutations, that included Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When the dust had settled inside Bolshoy Ice Dome — and doubtless in millions of Russian homes and elsewhere in hockey havens around the globe — the United States emerged a 3-2 winner over Russia after a wild eight-round penalty shootout.
The unlikely hero was St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie who, thanks to tournament rules that differ from the NHL, took six of the eight shootout attempts for the U.S. — the first and the last five. The Americans won the shootout 4-3 with Oshie responsible for all four successful attempts.
"It was a great game all round," said U.S. coach Dan Bylsma.
"This game had pretty much everything in it in an unbelievable setting and atmosphere," he added. "It was definitely a memorable one."
"A great game today," echoed Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, speaking through an interpreter. "I believe the spectators also loved it. A very dynamic game where both teams performed at their top level.
"So I enjoyed the game."
While the win before a raucous crowd of 11,678 essentially guaranteed the Americans a bye into the quarter-final out of Group A, Saturday was merely an Olympic hockey appetizer.
"It is only a preliminary-round game," said Ilya Kovalchuk. "Everything will be decided in the semifinal and the final."
Oshie was the lone gunslinger for the U.S. after the shootout was tied at 1-1 after three shooters, while Bilyaletdinov threw out the tandem of Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk.
Alex Ovechkin, who has been good on just two of 14 shootout attempts this season with Washington, was ignored. The only other Russian used in Saturday's shootout was Evgeni Malkin.
The teams played a five-minute four-on-four overtime Saturday before heading to the shootout. The overtime will be 10 minutes in playoff games or the bronze medal game and 20 minutes for the gold-medal contest.
Preliminary-round play concludes Sunday in Group A with the U.S. facing Slovenia, while Russia tackles Slovakia. In Group B, Canada plays Finland and Austria takes on Norway.
"This is Game 2 and really, while it's a big win for our team, we have to keep on going forward in this preliminary round," said Bylsma. "We have to be ready for Slovenia."
Datsyuk, who had a terrific game, had both goals in regulation time for Russia while Cam Fowler and Joe Pavelski replied for the Americans.
The game featured a matchup of elite goalies in Jonathan Quick, 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy-winner for the Los Angeles Kings, and Sergei Bobrovsky, the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2013 Vezina Trophy-winner.
Both excelled, with the U.S. outshooting Russia 34-31 though 65 minutes.
Bobrovsky stopped Patrick Kane on a breakaway midway through the overtime. Quick then kept an Ovechkin shot out.
It had looked like Pavelski's power-play goal midway through the third might give the U.S. the win in regulation time.
But then, with Dustin Brown off for kneeing, the Russian power play finally clicked with Datsyuk ripping a wrist shot past Quick at 12:44 for his second goal of the game. Soon after Kovalchuk hit the post and then a slapshot by Fedor Tyutin was ruled no goal as the net was off its moorings.
"We regret that that one was disallowed," said Bilyaletdinov, who was unsure the goal had indeed moved.
"Definitely a goal," said Ovechkin.
One Russian reporter basically accused Quick of cheating, saying he has a reputation for knocking nets loose.
Bilyaletdinov said he had not heard that, adding it was up to the officials to police play.
When the reporter insisted the officials had been duped, the Russian coach replied: "If there was an official's mistake, there should be people who will be judging the official's performance as well. But what can we do right now?"
"I do believe there was a mistake by the referee but it's our job to prepare for the next match now."
Ovechkin also said Quick dislodged the goal, but the American pleaded ignorance.
"I didn't know until after when I turned around and saw it (the goal) was off," said Quick, calling it a "a lucky break."
In a statement, the International Ice Hockey Federation said video review confirmed the net had been displaced before the puck went in.
Another reporter questioned why American Brad Meier was one of the two referees for the game.
"Of course it would be probably more objective to have a referee from a neutral country, but I didn't think that it would really bother me," said the imperious Bilyaletdinov. "I believe the referee was a good one and I didn't pay much attention to that."
The other referee was Marcus Vinnerborg of Sweden. The linesmen were Canadians.
The American go-ahead goal had come at 9:27 of the third when, with Alexander Radulov off for hooking, the U.S. power play paid off for a second time as Pavelski swept in a sweet pass from across the ice to beat a sliding Bobrovsky.
Datsyuk and Fowler, on the power play, had exchanged goals in the second period.
After Oshie opened the shootout with a goal, the U.S. went with James van Riemsdyk (saved), Pavelski (saved), Oshie (missed), Oshie (scored), Oshie (scored), Oshie (missed) and Oshie (scored).
Russia went with Malkin (missed), Datsyuk (saved), Kovalchuk (scored), Kovalchuk (saved), Datsyuk (scored), Kovalchuk (scored), Datsyuk (saved) and Kovalchuk (hit the goalpost).
Oshie is tied with Jonathan Toews and Logan Couture for the NHL lead in shootout goals with seven. At 70 per cent, his success rate this season is better than both.
"T.J. has been exception on the shootout this year, and in his career," said Bylsma. "He's been outstanding, by far the best number on our team history-wise and this year in particular."
The U.S. coach said he planned to use Oshie for as long as the shootout lasted.
The Russian villain was Radulov, who was in the penalty box for both American goals. Should the former Nashville Predator be scratched next time out, the coach was asked.
"Scratched? Yes I guess," Bilyaletdinov said. "Needs to be scratched. Among other things."
It was a fast-paced, exciting contest with much to admire as two of the tournament heavyweights went toe to toe.
A Russian power play, featuring a murderers' row of Andrei Markov, Ovechkin, Malkin, Radulov and Kovalchuk, was dangerous — especially to the referee who took a puck in the nether regions. But Russia could not score with the man-advantage until Datsyuk's late goal.
The Russian coach said he was satisfied with his team's performance, other than the power play,
Ovechkin had seven shots on the night and launched more than a few rockets with a man advantage, with Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Kesler and Oshie each giving up their body for the cause. Kesler headed to the dressing room after shaking his hand but soon returned.
"That's laying it on the line, that's putting it out there," said Bylsma, "And our guys certainly did that tonight against maybe the best shot, the hardest shot in the world. And we needed it, we needed every bit of that to get the win in this game."
The Americans pushed back after a first period in which they were often unable to corral a Russian team brimming with speed and skill. Quick to transition from offence to defence, the Russians dug deep into their bag of tricks.
After Datsyuk put the home team ahead in the second period, the Americans answered through Fowler.
It took less than 15 seconds for the first chant of "Rossiya, Rossiya" and the Russians' first foray up the ice drew a thunderous roar.
The game was on from the get-go. There were early testing shots, big hits and a bit of niggle around the Russian goal as the teams got in each other's face.
It was all played out to a raucous crowd soundtrack that sometimes had less to do with what was happening on the ice than with what might happen. The crowd amped up whenever the Russians crossed the American blue-line.
Russia struck first with a piece of class from Datsyuk at 9:15 of the second.
Taking a stretch pass between the red-line and blue-line, the Detroit Red Wings star kicked into high gear, split the defence and beat Quick below the glove hand as three Americans struggled to get to him.
Van Riemsdyk came close on the power play with one of his trademark between-the-leg flip shots from the side of the crease off a pass from Fowler. The Anaheim Ducks defenceman did it himself seconds late at 16:34, knocking in a JvR rebound after Bobrovsky made a pad save. Phil Kessel took the original shot with Van Riemsdyk making a nuisance of himself in front of goal.
Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche was in goal for Russia's 5-2 opening win against Slovenia. Quick also started in the Americans' opener, a 7-1 victory over Slovakia.
The three group winners and the second-place team with the best record advance to the quarter-finals. The remaining eight teams play a qualification game to determine the other four quarter-finalists and the 9-12 rankings.
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