If you’re a Devils fan, you were watching the USA men’s hockey team on Saturday morning with different thoughts and emotions running through your head. You’re committed to rooting for the USA, grudgingly convincing yourself that it’s still OK to root for American captain Zach Parise (who left the Devils for Minnesota after the 2011-12 season), but most of all, dealing with the exasperating sight of Ilya Kovalchuk on the other side. He’s the Devil who spurned the team to return to Russia — mid contract, mind you— leaving behind a huge void in the goal-scoring department. Kovalchuk wouldn’t really factor into this game until the shootout, although his lazy passes and a weak call for him that lead to a penalty for Russia were noted.
Though USA ultimately outshot the Russians 33-31, it did appear that the Russians dominated play for a good chunk of the game. Throughout the first period and about half of the second, the RU seemed to hold on to the puck more, putting more pressure on USA goalie Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. That pressure ultimately resulted in the first goal of the game, as Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings scored on a defensive breakdown by Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The USA would make the most of their man advantages, scoring twice on power plays. The first goal for USA came off of the redirected skate of Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks, tying the game, and then Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks gave USA the lead after a wonderful cross ice pass from Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks set him up for the one timer. However, the Russians wouldn’t go down easily; just minutes later, Pavel Datsyuk netted his second of the game, on a power play.
The evenness of the game unraveled quickly for USA when Fedor Tyuton of the Columbus Blue Jackets scored a goal from a shot a long way out, about three minutes after the Daysyuk goal. While there was some debate as to whether or not the puck had been redirected into the net with a high stick, replays indicated that no high stick made contact. Yet the return of the refs produced the most shocking call to date of Olympic hockey tournament up to that point —they called the goal off! The net had been just ever so slightly off of its mooring, and under Olympic/international rules, it was deemed no goal.
The USA had another power play opportunity at the end of regulation which carried into overtime when the third period ran out with the teams tied. Patrick Kane had a breakaway opportunity in OT, and close calls on Jonathon Quick were averted with outstanding saves. As a result, this much-hyped and highly anticipated game would bring more hockey and end in a shootout.
Kovalchuk scored the tying goal in the third round of the shootout and the go-ahead goal in the sixth round. He had the opportunity to return to the ice, as international shootout rules allow a team to use a repeat shooter. Both teams made good of this rule, as Kovalchuk shot four times and Datsyuk shot three times for Russia. T.J. Oshie, the newest USA Olympic sensation, shot six times, scoring on four attempts — including the opening goal and the winning goal! The St. Louis Blues forward coolly and calmly put forth an excellent effort, but was classy, too. After scoring his game-winning shootout goal, he turned and pointed to superstar goalie Quick; the net minder had saved five shots in the shootout and 29 in total in the game!
The game was an arousing and exciting start to a Saturday morning for fans in the USA, but the team cannot dwell on it for too long. They are set to face off against Slovenia at the same time on Sunday morning with a bye to the quarter finals on the line, something this USA team wants very badly. More solid play from Quick, good work on special teams, and the ability to play shut down defense on Slovenia’s only NHL player Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings are the keys to USA’s trip to the quarter finals!