SOCHI, RUSSIA — You could feel the excitement in the arena before the puck dropped to begin what turned out to be a classic matchup between the United States men's ice hockey team and host Russia, which was defeated Saturday in a dramatic overtime shootout at the Bolshoi Ice Dome.
President Vladimir Putin was among the partisan sellout crowd in one of the most highly anticipated events of the Winter Games. His fellow Russians were sent home disappointed when U.S. forward T.J. Oshie of the NHL's St. Louis Blues scored the game-deciding goal in a nail-biting eight-round shootout that gave his squad the 3-2 edge.
"I guess every kid, every guy growing up always wants to do the shootout and mess around and have fun, so tonight it paid off for me," Oshie said after the game.
But little did Oshie know he would be called on six times to try to score in the shootout. In all, he converted four of his six chances.
Olympic rules differ from the NHL in shootouts. When a game ends in a tie in regulation time, three different skaters from each team step up to shoot. If the score remains tied after those three rounds, the coaches can pick any skater to shoot until the tie is broken.
Oshie scored on one shot in round three, after which Coach Dan Bylsma selected him for every succeeding attempt. Although Oshie had two misses, they followed Russian misses, so the score remained tied. Finally, in round eight, after Russian Ilya Kovalchuk missed his shot, Oshie scored the game-winner.
"We had other guys that are capable, but T.J. was the guy that was going well, had great moves even when he didn't score, and I just felt like he was going to score every time he went, and (I) was going to go back with him again," said Bylsma, adding that it was a thrill to be part of the U.S.-Russia match-up.
"It was a great game all around," he said. "You saw pretty much everything in this game — their skill and speed and power plays, and the answering of that with our power play, and them scoring late in the third period to tie. This game had pretty much everything in it, in an unbelievable setting and atmosphere. It was definitely a memorable one."
Russian Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said via translator that there was naturally pressure on his team to do well, but he agreed it was a special contest.
"Concerning my career as a coach, I believe it was a great game," he said. "I believe the spectators also loved it, a very dynamic game where both teams performed at their top level."
Saturday's game was part of the preliminary round-robin competition in Olympic men's ice hockey. If the two teams do meet again at the Sochi Games it will come in the single-elimination knockout phase of the 12-team tournament.
The Americans, strong favorites for a medal, opened their series in Sochi with an overpowering 7-1 defeat of Slovakia. Russia won its first game here over Slovenia, 5-2.
On Sunday the U.S. faces Slovenia and Russia plays Slovakia both at 7:30 a.m. EST.