Electric win for the Americans

SOCHI, Russia -- At one point, U.S. coach Dan Bylsma looked around for T.J. Oshie and couldn't find him anywhere.

It was after a rare miss from the shootout specialist, who disappeared down to the opposite end of the chaotic American bench.

"He ultimately showed himself and came through with a couple of great goals," Bylsma said in the wake of an epic 3-2 victory over host Russia. It was a game that had a little bit of everything, and then some, including an eight-round shootout that saw Oshie take six of those shots, scoring four times, including the final game winner.

"I aged a couple of years in that shootout tonight, I think," the U.S. coach added.

The shootout, which in international competition is referred to as game-winning shots, allows for the same player to be called time after time if the game is still tied after the first three-shot sequence, which must be taken by different players.

"That may live in infamy, what happened there," Oshie's St. Louis Blues teammate David Backes said. "That was quite a display on both ends. Even a couple of the ones that Osh doesn't score on, [Sergei] Bobrovsky made some amazing saves on. It was great hockey on display, and we'll take the result."

One of the factors that led to Oshie's inclusion on this U.S. team was the fact he is one of the NHL's top shootout specialists. That selection paid huge dividends Saturday.

"It felt like he was going to score every time he went over the boards," Bylsma said.

But this game was so much more than its ending, as dramatic as it was, with almost every person in the Bolshoy Ice Dome -- from fans to President Vladimir Putin to the players on their respective benches -- on his or her feet anticipating the final result.

Someone likened this electric late-afternoon tilt between two historic rivals to a chess match.

Sure, assuming you play your chess at a hundred miles an hour and don't mind getting pounded into the middle of next week every time you turn around.

Backes, who spent most of the day roaming the ice mauling every Russian player with whom he came in contact, likened it to the gold-medal game the U.S. lost to Canada in Vancouver four years ago in terms of its emotion and vibe.

"That one went the wrong way at the end, so it's a bitter taste, but great hockey all of the way around," Backes said. "Again, this is what the Olympics is all about. It's guys laying it all out there, having great performances, owning your moment. I think Oshie had a pretty nice moment today."

Imagine what these two teams might produce if they met with something on the line other than seeding positions for next week's elimination games?

As it was, the Americans' 3-2 win more than lived up to its significant billing.

There was a controversial disallowed goal late in the third period that could have given the Russians a regulation victory.

There were glorious saves by Russia's Bobrovsky and his counterpart Jonathan Quick, including a lovely pad save off Evgeni Malkin on a Russian power play.

There was a breakaway by Patrick Kane in overtime and a virtuoso performance by Russian captain Pavel Datsyuk, who scored both Russian goals, this after he looked as if he was a bit hobbled in the Russians' first game of the tournament against Slovenia.

"I'm OK. We, not me," Datsyuk said continuing to downplay concerns over his health and try to focus the attention on his team's play rather than his individual play.

The result leaves the Americans with five points after two games, one more point than the Russians.

Both teams close out the preliminary part of the Olympic schedule Sunday. The Russians take on the disappointing Slovaks (0-2), while the U.S. will close out against the surprising Slovenians (1-1), who upset Slovakia 3-1 earlier Saturday.

The Americans' shootout victory opens the door to win their group and get a bye to the quarterfinal. The rest won't be known until Sunday night, when the four teams that get a bye are identified (three group winners plus the team with the next-best point total) and the matchups for the qualification games are established.

But what we do know is that, whatever flaws these two teams might have, they weren't on display in this lightning-fast, bruising contest many were calling an instant classic.

If the idea was that the Americans, 7-1 winners over Slovakia on Thursday, were going to disrupt the exploitable Russian defense, that didn't happen. The Russians moved the puck quickly and smartly to their wildly skilled forwards most of the day.

If the idea was the young American blueliners would start to show some cracks against the high-end Russian offense, well, that didn't happen, either.

If there was some idea that the Americans, who ran roughshod over the Slovaks with a bullying style, could impose their will physically on the Russians, that didn't happen as the two teams traded body blows all day.

"Great hockey game," said Russian star Alexander Ovechkin, who was likewise a physical force throughout the day. "Both team show character. Unfortunately, somebody have to lose; somebody have to win. We have a chance to win, but they do a great job on the penalty shots. It is what it is."

At the start of the selection process for the U.S. team, the coaching staff reinforced that, historically, teams that win the special-teams battle in these kinds of tournaments end up winning the vast majority of their games. It was so Saturday as the Americans scored two power-play goals, the first by Cam Fowler and the second by Joe Pavelski after a fabulous Kane pass to take a 2-1 lead near the midpoint of the third period. But the Americans tempted fate once too often, taking six minor penalties in the game and allowing a second Datsyuk goal through traffic with the man advantage to tie the score.

Next week, that kind of lack of discipline could prove devastating.

On this day, though, it was just part of what was a feast for the hockey senses.

"I'm going to be in bed tonight thinking about it, and I'll be thinking about it for the rest of my career," Fowler said.