SOCHI, Russia — It was almost supper time on one side of the globe, mid-morning on the other. But there were no dinners being made in Russian kitchens Saturday evening, and those breakfast dishes in the United States could just sit in the sink a little while longer. In both countries, and surely in other places where hockey is played, eyes were riveted to what was occurring in a cozy, new arena on the shores of the Black Sea, where a game that demanded status as a classic even as it was going on careened toward an ending that would befit its layered richness.
Sixty minutes of regulation couldn’t do the job, the Olympic hockey teams of the United States and Russia skating to a drama-packed deadlock. A five-minute overtime, too, failed to produce a decisive score. Then came seven rounds of a shootout, 14 times a lone skater zooming in on a lone goaltender, and still there was no winner.
Finally, in the eighth round of the shootout, on the 16th individual attempt, American center and designated shootout sniper T.J. Oshie, who to that point had taken five of the seven U.S. tries and converted three, took the puck from the center face-off circle, started right, veered left, then back to the right and fired a point-blank forehand through the legs of Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who kneeled dejectedly on the ice as the puck trickled back out of the net behind him.
It was over, a 3-2 victory for the United States. With what energy they had left after this epic contest, the Americans climbed over the boards and mobbed Oshie before lining up to shake the hands of their opponents. And then they all lumbered toward their respective locker rooms to begin trying to digest the contents of a game that did full justice to this storied rivalry.
“My hands are a little tingling. My feet are tingling,” said Oshie, a 27-year-old from Warroad, Minn., who plays for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. “It was pretty nerve-wracking out there.”
Leave for another day the debate over where this game ranks in the annals of great Olympic hockey moments — though surely it falls somewhere below the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” right? right? — and pay only passing attention to the fact the Americans, with the win, gained the upper hand in Group A of the three-group, 12-team Sochi Winter Games tournament because both the U.S. and Russian teams likely will make it to the quarterfinals anyway.
For now, simply relish what took place on the ice Saturday — in front of a raucous, sellout crowd of 11,678 that included several small pockets of rowdy Americans as well as one sitting Russian president, Vladimir Putin — and know that if you watched it, on either side of the world, you saw hockey played at its very best, by two elite teams that were as evenly matched as any have ever been.
“You could just feel the buzz in the air and you just had that feeling the whole game,” said American defenseman Cam Fowler, who scored one of the two U.S. goals in regulation. “It was a really special game to be a part of.”
Revisit, as many times as you wish, preferably in a slow-motion video loop, Pavel Datsyuk’s two exquisite regulation goals for Russia, the second of which, a magician’s slip through three U.S. defenders and a laser past goalie Jonathan Quick, tied the score at 2 apiece with less than nine minutes remaining in regulation.
Roll around in your memory the dazzling pass by Patrick Kane to set up Joe Pavelski’s power-play goal that gave the United States a brief 2-1 lead in the third, the bone-rattling hit Russian star Alex Ovechkin delivered to American defenseman Brooks Orpik in the first period and the stellar play of the respective goalies. If it’s true that Bobrovsky ultimately let in one more penalty shot than did Quick, it’s also true he turned away a breakaway by Kane that stood as the best scoring chance for either team during the overtime.
If you root for Russia, feel free to direct some venom, as some in the Russian media did, at Alexander Radulov, who was in the penalty box for both U.S. goals in regulation. Question, if you wish, whether Russian Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov erred in keeping Ovechkin on the bench for the entire shootout, entrusting Evgeni Malkin (0 for 1), Datsyuk (1 for 3) and Ilya Kovalchuk (2 for 4) with the eight chances.
And debate until your heart’s content the validity of the apparent go-ahead goal scored by Russia’s Fyodor Tyutin on a blue-line blast with 4 minutes 40 seconds left in the game, but that was overruled upon video review when it was revealed the net had come off its moorings just before the puck went in. Note the fact the disputed non-goal would have counted in the NHL, and marvel at the notion that the difference between a win and a loss very well could have been this quirk of international hockey. Or simply do what those on the wrong side of history have been doing for centuries, and blame the refs.
“The goalie touched the net so that the net moved,” Ovechkin said. “The referee had to see it. He should have given [Quick] two minutes” in the penalty box.
Recall, if you wish, the dramatic chronology of the shootout: a score by Oshie, a miss by Malkin, a save by Bobrovsky to stop James van Riemsdyk, a save by Quick against Datsyuk, a save by Bobrovsky against Pavelski, a score by Kovalchuk to keep the Russians alive. At that point, the shootout went from best-of-three rounds with three different skaters per side to one round at a time, with any skater you wish.
“With the quality moves he had,” U.S. Coach Dan Bylsma said of the decision to go with Oshie the rest of the way, “. . . we were going to ride him out.”
The Russians went first, Kovalchuk stopped by Quick. But Oshie, with a chance to win, missed high. Datsyuk scored, and Oshie scored to keep the Americans alive. Kovalchuk scored, Oshie scored again. Datsyuk was stopped by Quick, and Oshie missed to the left. Finally, Kovalchuk missed off the post, and Oshie went five-hole to beat Bobrovsky. Finally, game over.
Mull over these highlights for a while, and pick some of your own to delight in. It was a game that will be talked about for a long time.
And then get back to that dinner and back to those dishes. Life goes on, and so does this tournament. And if we’re all lucky, we might see a rematch in the medal round.
Analysis: The pros and cons of the hockey shootout