SOCHI, Russia—T.J. Oshie, who spent his childhood in Everett, had only one concern when Coach Dan Bylsma called his name six times during the shootout that would settle Team USA’s preliminary-round game against Russia.
“I was just thinking of something else I could do to try to keep them guessing,” said Oshie, whose shootout success with the NHL’s St. Louis Blues helped him win an Olympic berth. “I had to go back to the same move a couple times, but I was glad it ended when it did. I was running out of moves there.”
Unlike the NHL, international rules permit players to take multiple shootout attempts after three rounds. Oshie, varying his maneuvers just enough, scored on goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in the first, fifth, sixth and eighth rounds Saturday as the U.S. squeezed out a 3-2 victory in a thriller at the Bolshoy Ice Palace before a crowd that included Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It was a hard-fought battle and a great test for our team,” Oshie said. “They’re a really high-caliber elite team and I think that was a very good character team win for us.”
The pace was breathtaking. The Americans were physical and blocked shots fearlessly. The Russians dazzled with their skill and creativity.
“You had two really good teams out there playing and the buzz in the air and the energy in the crowd was everything and more than what we expected,” said Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, who scored the first U.S. goal when a shot went off his skate during a second-period power play. “It was a really fun game to play in.”
Los Angeles Kings and U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick, who stopped 29 shots in regulation and overtime, made clutch saves on Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk in the seventh and eighth rounds. Thanks to the curious choices of Russia Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, he didn’t face NHL goal-scoring leader Alexander Ovechkin. Evgeni Malkin took one shot, Datsyuk took three, and Kovalchuk took four.
Quick’s glove save on Kovalchuk set the stage for Oshie to get the better of Bobrovsky, who plays for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. Bobrovsky called the loss “heartbreaking,” but Kovalchuk seemed to shrug it off.
“It’s OK. Nothing terrible has happened,” said Kovalchuk, who left the New Jersey Devils to play in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. “We played good and showed our character.”
Quick said the game was “up there” with his experiences during the Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup run. “Playing for your country and playing in the Olympics is quite an honor, and to play a team like Russia, how great they are,” he said. “It was exciting for the fans and exciting for players to be a part of it.”
The Russians believed they had scored the winner on a long shot by Fyodor Tyutin with 4:40 to play in the third period, but the goal was waved off because the net had come off its moorings. It had been off for a few seconds but play wasn’t stopped until after Tyutin’s shot. The referees were Brad Meier, an American, and Marcus Vinnerborg, a Swede.
Quick said he didn’t know when the net came off its pegs but was glad of the call. “You need to catch some breaks to win games,” he said.
Russia and Kings defenseman Slava Voynov told Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo Sports that Quick deliberately dislodged the net. “I play with him. I know that’s his style,” Voynov said. It should spark an interesting discussion when the Kings reconvene after the Olympic break.
Russia had scored first, at 9:15 of the second period, when Datsyuk split U.S. defensemen John Carlson and Brooks Orpik and beat Quick to the glove side. Fowler tied it by going to the net after a shot by Phil Kessel bounced in front while Russia forward Alexander Radulov served a crosschecking penalty.
Team USA took a 2-1 lead at 9:27 of the third period when Joe Pavelski finished off a fine cross-ice pass from Patrick Kane, again with Radulov in the penalty box. Bilyaletdinov sounded ominous when asked if Radulov will play in Russia’s next game. “He needs to be scratched, among other things,” he said through an interpreter.
Russia pulled even at 12:44 of the third period when Datsyuk rifled a hard shot past Quick while Kings and U.S. winger Dustin Brown served a kneeing penalty. Bobrovsky got his left pad on a breakaway by Kane in overtime to bring on the shootout, where Oshie showed why he’s seven for 10 in NHL shootouts this season.
It was great theater, but it wasn’t the final act. Team USA will end preliminary-round play Sunday against Slovenia, which upset Slovakia on Saturday for its first-ever Olympic victory,.
“It’s always good to win,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, who played a game-high 29 minutes and 56 seconds, “but we really haven’t done anything yet.”
No, but the chance is still there.