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Siegel: USA, Russia renew rivalry with instant classic

Jonas Siegel

2/15/2014 2:59:17 PM

SOCHI, Russia – You could feel electricity in the air between Ryan Callahan and Yevgeni Medvedev as they stood nose to nose exchanging verbal jabs just outside the crease of Sergei Bobrovsky. You could feel it when the capacity crowd at Bolshoy Ice Dome roared as Pavel Datsyuk exploded past the American defence and beat the glove of Jonathan Quick for the first Russian goal. You could feel it when T.J. Oshie jumped off the bench not once, twice, three, four or even five times in the shootout, but six glorious times, the St. Louis Blues excitable winger finally ending it an exhilarating eighth round.

Thirty-four years after the Americans and Russians made history in Lake Placid with the Miracle on Ice did another classic emerge at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Albeit of less weight, both in the tournament (it was a preliminary round game) and on a global stage (the Cold War has long since ended), the proceedings on a sunny Saturday afternoon were about as entertaining and exhilarating as hockey can get and a delightful reminder of what the NHL has to offer the Olympics.

"It was awesome," said Joe Pavelski, still beaming afterward. "Whatever type of game you want to explain it as, it was that."
 
"Obviously we know the history between the Americans and the Russians," added Patrick Kane, "and you know this one kind of had a different story of its own, obviously. But being in Russia here, playing here, seeing how the crowd was into the game and being able to come up with the win is nice."
 
The buzz in the rink, the fierce competitiveness, the relentless tempo, the tension and hostilities, the exuberant chants of the mostly Russian crowd any time Datsyuk, Malkin, Ovechkin rushed up the ice, there was something different about the air in this one.
"It was amazing," said Kane. "I don't think anyone could have asked for a better game."
 
"Great hockey game," added Ovechkin.
 
And it went to the Americans.
 
Oshie, with a seemingly unending toolbox of moves, scored on four of six shootout dangles, beating Bobrovsky (and the scary duo of Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk) one last time to capture the 3-2 victory for Team USA, all but sealing Group A and a trip to the quarterfinals.
 
The gripping, edge-of-chair shootout, which saw Datsyuk, Oshie and Kovalchuk bounce up and off the bench time and time again, was just the icing on a spectacular cake though.
 
In fact, there was so much more.
 
Start with Kane's heart-stopping overtime breakaway, the one Bobrovosky stopped by closing the pads on a five-hole attempt. Circle back to Datsyuk tucking one under the glove of Quick for the game's first goal, a shockwave of emotion and energy pulsating through the crowd.
 
Continue on with the pockets of red, white and blue that stood tall when Cam Fowler – Canadian-born, American-raised – tied the score on a power-play. Recall the balloon of home turf enthusiasm burst when Pavelski popped the air out, blasting Kane's remarkable cross-ice feed for an American lead.
 
"I tried not to look around," said Fowler afterward, "but you could feel the buzz in the air. It was such high intensity out there."
 
There was Malkin angrily dumping Callahan with an emphatic cross-check in front of the Russian bench. There was the scrum that ensued after nearly every whistle. There was NHL defector Alex Radulov taking not one but two penalties, with the Americans scoring on both power-plays.
 
There were the extra jabs, spears, slashes, punishing collisions, nose-to-nose confrontations, everything one would imagine in a smoldering rivalry suddenly renewed.
 
There was David Backes charging like a train through Fedor Tyutin in the neutral zone. There was Ryan Kesler standing in the way of a dangerous point shot on the penalty kill, his stunned left hand requiring attention on the bench and in the dressing room, but not enough to keep him from returning. There was Ryan McDonagh sacrificing with another blocked shot shortly thereafter, the St. Paul, Minnesota native limping off in discomfort only to get back moments later.
 
There were the undercurrents of history, two powerhouses pining for gold that has long since eluded both.
 
There was that fiery U.S. penalty kill stonewalling an incredible array of power-play talent – Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk, Datsyuk – only to have Datsyuk tie it on the final man advantage with Dustin Brown in the box for a second time. There was Radulov, who screened Quick on the goal, smack-talking Brown as he exited the box.
 
Not to be forgotten was the Tyutin point shot that beat Quick with less than five minutes left, nor the smattering of disapproval that followed when the goal was called back (the net was dislodged, however slightly).
 
"I don't know what happened there, but definitely was a goal," said Ovechkin.
 
And finally there was the shock, delight and awe of Oshie hopping onto the ice again and again. There was the joy on the American bench at the unlikely nature of it all. "At some point you think 'does he have any more moves left?'" said American captain Zach Parise.
 
All in all it was a game that won't soon be forgotten.
 
"That one – in an atmosphere like that – is something you'll remember for the rest of your life," said James van Riemsdyk.