It was riveting - from opening puck drop to the shootout that went five rounds longer than usual. And even though a shootout was hardly the way to decide a game of this magnitude, the way it turned out was a story line all on its own.
It was USA vs. Russia. It lived up to the hype. And if the Americans win a gold medal, T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues will be remembered as an American Olympic hero.
Oshie took six turns in the shootout – you read that right. International l rules allow for players to repeat as shooters in the breakaway competition as often as necessary. And he beat Russian goalie (and former Flyer) Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus) four times to ensure a thrilling 3-2 win for Team USA.
The shootout snaked through eight rounds courtesy of a mixture of great shots by Oshie for the U.S. and Ilya Kovalchuk for Russia as well as top flight saves by American goalie Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles) and Bobrovsky.
The game almost didn’t make it to overtime as a goal by Fedor Tyutin (Columbus) was disallowed with less than five minutes to play when replays showed that the net behind Quick was knocked slightly off its moorings prior to the goal. In the NHL, the goal would have counted, but in International play, that’s not the case, and the goal is disallowed.
It gave Team USA new life and they almost won in overtime, but Bobrovsky stoned Patrick Kane (Chicago) on a breakaway and later on another great chance to force the shootout.
Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit), playing through pain, was sensational for the Russians, scoring both of their goals in regulation.
Cam Fowler (Anaheim) and Joe Pavelski (San Jose) scored both U.S. goals on the power play.
If the Americans can defeat Slovenia tomorrow morning, they will win group A and be one of the top three seeds heading into the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, Russia needs to defeat Slovakia and hope Slovenia can pull off the upset so they would have a chance to win the Group via tiebreakers, otherwise the host country could end up playing Tuesday in the qualifying bracket – if Canada and Finland happen to reach overtime in their game tomorrow.
As for Slovenia, they scored three goals in less than six minutes in the third period, including a pair of goals 23 seconds apart to pull off the first major upset of the Men’s Olympic hockey tournament, stunning Slovakia 3-1 for the country’s first Olympic victory.
After hanging with the Slovaks in a scoreless game through two periods, Rok Ticar scored on the power play – set up by Ziga Jeglic who scored a pair of goals against Russia – to break the tie.
A little more than five minutes later, Tomas Razinger netted the game-winner before Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles) the lone NHLer on Slovenia scored the insurance marker.
Tomas Jurco (Detroit) broke up Robert Kristan’s shutout attempt with a power play goal in the final minute, but Kristan was superb, making 27 saves to get the win.
Andrej Meszaros was in the box for cross-checking when Ticar scored the first goal. Otherwise, he had a relatively non-descript game for the Slovaks.
As for the former Flyers on Slovakia, Michal Handzus (Chicago) had two shots and was a minus-1 while Branko Radivojevic didn’t get on the score sheet.
Slovakia needs to have a major rebound effort against Russia tomorrow in order to avoid an 0-3 record in the preliminary round and a possible matchup with one of the Big Six teams in the qualifying round Tuesday.
Over in Group C, Sweden came away as the Group winner with a tough, 5-3 win over Latvia, who hung with the Swedes the entire game.
Sweden was able to capitalize on Latvia’s discipline issues, scoring their first four goals all on the power play.
Patrick Berglund (St. Louis), Erik Karlsson (Ottawa), Daniel Alfredsson (Detroit) and Jimmie Ericsson all scored with the man advantage, while Alexander Edler (Vancouver) playing his first game for Sweden after serving a two-game international suspension from a hit in last year’s World Championships, put the game away with a third period goal that made it a two-goal game again.
Lauris Darzins, Janis Sprukts and Zemgus Girgensons (Buffalo) scored for Latvia, who finished the preliminary round 0-3.
By sweeping the Group Sweden will either be seeded No. 1 or No. 2 pending the outcome of the Canada-Finland game tomorrow.
Meanwhile Switzerland played their third consecutive 1-0 game, winning this one over the Czech Republic behind a great game in goal by Jonas Hiller (Anaheim) who made 26 saves for his second shutout in as many starts in these Olympics.
Simon Bodenmann scored the lone goal as Switzerland finished second in Group C and is hoping to earn the bye to the quarterfinals and will sit back and watch the games tomorrow to see where they finish.
Mark Streit played another solid game for the Swiss despite not registering a shot or a point. Meanhile, former Flyers prospect Kevin Romy picked up an assist on the lone goal of the game.
Jake Voracek managed just one shot on goal in the loss for the Czechs, who will be playing in the qualifying round Tuesday against a still-to-be-determined opponent.
Tomorrow’s schedule (all times EST):
Austria vs. Norway, 3 a.m.
Russia vs. Slovakia, 7:30 a.m.
USA vs. Slovenia, 7:30 a.m.
Finland vs. Canada, Noon
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers