By Steve Silverman
(CBS) — It wasn’t just about the T.J. Oshie Show.
Yes, the St. Louis Blues’ forward made 4-of-6 attempts in the shootout, including the clinching goal that gave the United States a 3-2 victory over Russia in their preliminary round game at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. Oshie got tapped on the shoulder time after time by head coach Dan Bylsma, and he delivered against the Russian duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.
There were two main storylines in this game. First, the Americans have a sensational team. They are loaded with speed and while they don’t have the superstar power of the Russians or Canadians, they just may have the best team in the tournament.
This game meant the world to the Russians. They have designs on winning the gold medal and there is incredible pressure to deliver. The Russians did not sink under the pressure. They matched the American for 65 minutes and they came up with a big effort. Datsyuk, of course, was at his best as he scored both Russian goals in regulation.
He started the scoring when he beat Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik into the offensive zone and split the defense. He fired a seeing-eye bullet to the far post and that sent the Russian crowd into a frenzy in the second period.
Evgeni Malkin did not score, but he was at his best in this game. He moved with determination in the offensive zone, stringing moves together and creating excellent scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates that were stopped effectively by American goalie Jonathan Quck.
Alex Ovechkin, the third Russian superstar who is trying to carry his team on his back, got off several of his patented slap shots when the Russians were on the power play, but he did not dominate because the Americans were putting the body on him every chance they could.
Joe Pavelski, Ryan Kesler and Ryan Callahan were all over Ovechkin, and that’s how the Americans are playing in this tournament. They are going to be taking the body whenever they get the chance and opponents who have superstars are going to pay the price.
This was a crackling good hockey team that featured two of the best teams in the world playing at peak levels. With Russian president Vladimir Putin in the house, the Russians had the added incentive of trying to get revenge for the famed Miracle on Ice victory the U.S. crafted in 1980 in Lake Placid. Never mind that it was 34 years ago, the Russians wanted to take a piece of the American backside.
That did not happen because Cam Fowler scored the tying goal and Joe Pavelski hammered home a perfect pass from Patrick Kane to give the United States a temporary 2-1 lead in the third period. Datsyuk would answer that go ahead goal with a seeing-eye wrist shot that beat Jonathan Quick to the short side.
That tying goal gave the Russians the momentum, but the U.S. did not capitulate. Kane had a great chance to win it on a breakaway in overtime, but he was stopped by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and the game was destined to end in the shootout.
The American victory is significant, but there is much work to do for Team USA. They may still meet the Russians in a medal-round game and there is the specter of a confrontation with Canada on the horizon.
But we learned that Olympic hockey is still special. It is an incredible display of skill, speed and determination. The American team may have as much as any team in the world, and they have a shot to bring home the gold medal that eluded them four years ago in Vancouver.