St. Louis Blues winger T.J. Oshie carved out a spot among American Olympic legends Saturday, as he scored on four of six shootout attempts to boost Team USA past host Russia in a feverish preliminary round men’s hockey game at Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi.
After the two teams finished 65 minutes of play tied at 2, a shootout was needed to determine the victor – and the likely winner of Group A. Oshie scored in the first round, but Russia’s Ilya Kovalchuk buried one in the third round to force extra frames, at which point international rules allow the same player to repeatedly take shots.
And so it was that American coach Dan Bylsma, five years to the day since he was plucked from the minors to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins, sent the 27-year-old Oshie over the boards again and again to counter the Russian rotation of Pavel Datsyuk and Kovalchuk.
On two occasions – in the fifth and sixth rounds – Oshie needed to score after Russia had gone ahead. Both times Oshie came through against defending Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Finally, after United States goalie Jonathan Quick denied Kovalchuk to start the eighth round, Oshie snapped a forehand shot through Bobrovsky’s legs to end the epic showdown.
Leaving Oshie out there to carry the Americans’ hopes wasn’t terribly unorthodox; the sixth-year pro has a career success rate of 54 percent in NHL shootouts, the third-best mark among active players. Still, with talents such as Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel on the bench, Bylsma could’ve been excused for rotating in some fresh faces.
Instead, Bylsma stuck with Oshie, whose presence on the team was partially justified because of his shootout prowess. Although the former University of North Dakota star scored primarily with his wrist shot, he had Bobrovsky down and out with skillful dekes on his two misses. He easily could’ve been 6 for 6, but the way it played out only added to the drama.
Of course, the man at the other end of the ice was critical, too. Quick stopped 29 shots during the regular game, including a lunging save on Penguins center Evgeni Malkin‘s one-timer early in the third period. Quick’s denial of Kovalchuk in the final shootout round was similarly athletic.
Bylsma could’ve turned to 2010 Olympic hero Ryan Miller to man the net, but the Penguins bench boss doubled up with Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy for Stanley Cup playoff MVP two years ago with Los Angeles. Quick has battled injuries this year, but he appears to be back at top form.
Team USA’s power play was also clicking, converting twice to counteract Russia’s edge in even-strength play. Kane had a gorgeous setup of Joe Pavelski‘s man-advantage goal with 10:33 to go in the third, but Datsyuk countered with his second goal of the game about two minutes later, also on a power play.
Fedor Tyutin appeared to give Russia a 3-2 lead with about five minutes to go in regulation time when his point shot sailed through traffic and over Quick’s shoulder. However, the officials correctly ruled that the net was slightly off its moorings, nullifying the apparent goal.
Malkin and Martin represented their countries (and the Penguins) well in an emotional atmosphere. Malkin played 19:11, fourth-most among Russian forwards, and directed four shots on target. Martin, who made smart decisions with the puck and moved up the ice expertly, was entrusted with 15:47, capped by a couple of shifts in sudden-death overtime.
Brooks Orpik had a couple nervous moments and was on the ice when Datsyuk knifed through the middle for a breathtaking second-period goal. Nonetheless, he remained in the regular defense rotation, usually paired with Pittsburgh teammate Martin.
With a win Sunday morning against Slovenia (1-1), the United States would clinch Group A and a bye into Wednesday’s quarterfinals. Russia must defeat Slovakia (0-2) and hope for an American stumble to avoid playing in Tuesday’s qualification round. USA and Russia both play at 7:30 a.m.