This was no Miracle On Ice, but it will do.
Team USA defeated Team Russia 3-2 in a shootout in a fantastic back-and-forth game this morning. While both teams came into the game appearing to be locks to make it out of the preliminary round, winning this game was very likely to secure a first-round bye in the Medal Tournament. It was a big deal, and both teams played like it.
The first period had a lot of action, with 23 shots (13-10 Russia), but the scoring didn't get started until the second period. The first goal of the game came 9:15 into the second period, when Andrei Markov made a beautiful tape-to-tape outlet pass that hit Pavel Datsyuk in stride, where he beat two American defenders and Jonathan Quick with an un-Datsyukian, but still effective wrist shot to give Russia the early 1-0 lead. America would answer back on a Power Play that came as a result of an Alexander Radulov cross-check. Phil Kessel's shot came off of Sergei Bobrovsky, where James van Riemsdyk attempted to bring home the rebound. That shot was also saved by Bob the Goalie, but Cam Fowler came up close to the net and put the JVR shot in the net. Tie game.
The third period started with the USA killing off a Patrick Kane penalty, and then a dumb penalty by the King of Dumb Penalty-Takers Dustin Brown. Radulov tried to pull ahead of Brown in the Dumb Penalty Race by hooking, which put the Americans on the power play for the first time in the period. They struck again, as Patrick Kane found Joe Pavelski for a one-timer to put the Americans ahead 2-1. But then Stupid Dustin Brown was stupid again, and then he did one of his trademarked (No, seriously, he sues when other players do this) knee-on-knee hits, giving Russia a power play of their own. The sixth time was a charm for the Russian power play, as Pavel Datsyuk converted to tie the game 2-2. As with the first goal, there wasn't anything fancy to the goal, by Datsyuk's standards. He just found himself where Quick couldn't see the puck and shot.
As the third period wound down, there was a big scare for the Americans as Russia appeared to score the go-ahead goal with only 4:40 to go in the game. However, the goal was disallowed due to a slight dislodging in the net, a rule that exists in Olympic Hockey, but not in the NHL. A heart-breaker for Russia. The game got progressively rougher in the last five minutes as the refs appeared to have put their whistles away, until Yevgeny Medvedev took down an American player and was called for interference with only 1:32 left. The American power play didn't convert, so the game went into overtime.
Russia successfully killed the last 28 seconds of the American power play to start overtime, thanks to Datsyuk, who cleared the puck and almost managed to get a scoring chance on Quick. The best chance of the overtime period came when Patrick Kane had a breakaway, and a lot of space, but Kane didn't make a move and shot it harmlessly into Bobrovsky's pads. There was no score (shots 3-2 for Russia), and the game went to a shootout.
Team Russia went into the shootout with a lineup that you would expect, going with Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, and Ilya Kovalchuk, all in the Top-33 all-time for shootout goals. Team USA's choices were a bit more curious, especially to this Wild fan. Having seen the shootout prowess of both Kane and Zach Parise (both top-10 all-time in shootout goals), it was hard for me to imagine them both being left out for T.J. Oshie, James van Riemsdyk, and Joe Pavelski. While van Riemsdyk and Pavelski didn't score, it was no problem for the Americans.
Oshie, whose shootout skill helped him make the Olympic Team, started out each of his shootout attempts slowly and methodically, tormenting Bobrovsky with a variety of shots and moves. He went 5-hole on his first attempt. When Kovalchuk beat Quick in the third round of the shootout, Team USA decided to ride Oshie for the rest of the shootout. He rewarded them by going glove side on Bob after a Pavel Datsyuk goal, and saving the match again by beating Bobrovsky off the crossbar in response to another Kovalchuk goal. When Quick threw himself in front of a Kovalchuk attempt in Round 8, Oshie took the puck for the 6th time on the shootout, and scored for the 4th time, beating Bobrovsky 5-hole again for the win.
Again, this may have been just a preliminary game, but this game will likely determine who gets that bye in the first round of the Medal Tournament, so it's not a game that lacked importance. This was probably the best game of the Men's Tournament so far, and the most excited I've felt during a game since the Gold Medal game of the 2010 Olympics.
This game shows how stupid the NHL's likely decision to quit sending players to the Olympics will be. These games are fun, exciting, and elevate hockey to a bigger stage and to a wider audience than even the Stanley Cup can provide. The players clearly care, and it encourages international hockey, creating a more talented base of players for the NHL to put on the ice. If Sochi is the last Olympic Tournament NHL players can be sent to, it will be phenomenally dumb, and very unfortunate for fans and players alike.
Looking ahead, both of these teams will finish their preliminary round tomorrow morning at 6:30, where Russia will take on the stumbling Slovakians, who surprisingly lost to the Slovenians today by a score of 3-1. And Team USA will take on Anze Kopitar and Team Slovenia. A win for Team USA ensures a bye from the next round, so you'll have that to root for.
In the meantime, Team Czech Republic played Nino Niederreiter's Team Switzerland team just now. Switzerland scored the only goal of the game, and Niederreiter contributed 4 shots.