If you doubted the allure of Olympic hockey before Saturday, chances are you’re singing a different tune now.
The fourth day of the 2014 Winter Olympic hockey tournament was the most thrilling one yet, with the United States and Russia providing the headlining act with a game for the ages.
Two goals from Russian wizard Pavel Datsyuk were matched by tallies from Cam Fowler and Joe Pavelski, and a potential go-ahead goal by Russia in the third period was waved off when the U.S. net came off its moorings.
After a scoreless five-minute overtime period, the game went to a nail-biter of a shootout, with T.J. Oshie finally winning it for the U.S. in the eighth round, 3-2.
That wasn’t Saturday’s only exciting Olympic matchup, though.
Anze Kopitar and Slovenia upset Slovakia 3-1 in the early game for the country’s first-ever Olympic win. Kopitar had the third of three third-period goals for the Slovenians.
Sweden got a scare from Latvia, which trailed by just one midway through the third period after putting three pucks past goalie Henrik Lundqvist. A goal by Alexander Edler stretched that advantage to two, though, and Sweden was able to hold on for a 5-3 win.
In the day’s final game, Switzerland — whose defense has resembled the 1985 Chicago Bears during these Olympics — shut out the Czech Republic 1-0 thanks to a 26-save performance by Jonas Hiller.
T.J. Oshie, Winger, United States
Who else? Oshie took full advantage of the Olympics’ new shootout format, which allows teams to use players multiple times if the score remains tied after the first three skaters. Team USA coach Dan Bylsma sent Oshie out six times to take on Sergei Bobrovsky, and he was successful on four of his attempts. Not particularly surprising for someone whose shootout percentage with the St. Louis Blues is a ridiculous 70 percent (7-for-10) this season.
Jonathan Quick, Goalie, United States
Oshie has gotten most of the postgame notoriety, but Quick was phenomenal against the Russians, holding a stacked lineup featuring the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk to just two goals. He made 29 saves in the contest and three more in the shootout, stoning Kovalchuk once and Datsyuk twice.
Anze Kopitar, Center, Slovenia
Speaking of Los Angeles Kings, Kopitar helped lead his home nation to the greatest hockey victory in its modest history. Kopitar is the only NHL player on a team coached by his father, Matjaz, but he and the Slovenians imposed their will Saturday on Zdeno Chara and the rest of Slovakia’s more talented defensive corps. The Kings forward was also a workhorse in the game, leading all skaters with 26:50 of ice time.
Jonas Hiller, Goalie, Switzerland
Forty-seven shots, zero goals. That’s Hiller’s stat line so far in these Olympics. The Anaheim Ducks goalie, who did not play in Friday’s loss to Group C-leading Sweden, blanked the Czechs on Saturday and ruined Jaromir Jagr’s 46th birthday. If the Swiss can only find a way to score more than one goal per game, they could be trouble for some of the more highly regarded teams in the knockout rounds.
Updated Preliminary Round Standings
|1||USA||2||1||1||0||0||9 : 3||6|
|2||RUS||2||1||0||1||0||7 : 4||4|
|3||SLO||2||1||0||0||1||5 : 6||3|
|4||SVK||2||0||0||0||2||2 : 10||0|
|1||FIN||2||2||0||0||0||14 : 5||6|
|2||CAN||2||2||0||0||0||9 : 1||6|
|3||NOR||2||0||0||0||2||2 : 9||0|
|4||AUT||2||0||0||0||2||4 : 14||0|
|1||SWE||3||3||0||0||0||10 : 6||9|
|2||SUI||3||2||0||0||1||2 : 1||6|
|3||CZE||3||1||0||0||2||6 : 7||3|
|4||LAT||3||0||0||0||3||6 : 10||0|
Canada-Finland (noon ET) will be the marquee matchup on the final day of preliminary-round play, with first place in Group B and a guaranteed first-round bye on the line. There’s no word yet on who will start in net for the Finns, but with Tuukka Rask, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi all at their disposal, they can’t really go wrong.
Meanwhile, the U.S. will also look to close out pool play undefeated against a Slovenia team that has been much more competitive than expected through its first two games. Puck drop for that one is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. ET.
Also in action: Norway-Austria (3 a.m. ET), Slovakia-Russia (7:30 a.m. ET)
Photo via Twitter/@NHLPA