February 15, 2014 Updated: February 15, 2014 at 6:15 pm
SOCHI, Russia – As American hockey forward David Backes prepared to face hostility at the Olympics, he motivated himself by envisioning how much fun it would be to deliver silence to Russian arenas.
On Saturday evening on the edge of the Black Sea, Backes and his teammates failed to see their wish come true. Yes, the United States defeated Russia, 3-2, after a dramatic and epic shootout, but the Olympic Ice Dome was not silent.
It was hopping with the sound of thrilled American fans, who were waving the red, white and blue. About 25 percent of the crowd was rooting for the United States and against the Russians.
“I was surprised,” said forward Paul Stastny the former University of Denver star who now plays for the Avalanche. “It was loud for us. You noticed how loud it was.”
T.J. Oshie finally ended the game with a penalty shot that slipped past Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. International rules allow the same player to take repeated shots after the first three rounds, and Oshie tested Bobrovsky six straight times. He scored four times, including the game winner.
When Oshie finally ended the game, he said he felt “relief.”
“I was just glad it was over,” he said. “A crazy game, and a crazy finish.”
The Russians did enjoy home ice advantage, despite the invasion of several thousand Americans. The chanting and cheering and celebrating gave the game a more dramatic feel than a typical opening round Olympic contest.
The history behind the rivalry added to the tension. Americans will long savor “The Miracle on Ice” in 1980, but the Soviets and Russians dominated the Olympic series until 1998, winning seven of nine games.
When NHL players entered the Olympics, the rivalry transformed, becoming almost dead even. Heading into Saturday’s game, both teams had one win, one loss and one tie since 1998, and both teams had scoring nine goals. Saturday’s game followed this trend. Both teams failed to ever pull away from the other.
The rivalry has softened, at least a bit, since the days when U.S. president Ronald Reagan referred to Russia and the Soviet Union as “the evil empire,” but not all harsh feelings have vanished.
“Both teams don’t like each other and both countries don’t like each other,” Stastny said.
The shootout almost never happened. With 4:40 left, Russia’s Fedor Tyntin beat American goaltender Jonathan Quick with a high rising shot. For a moment, it looked as if Russia had seized a 3-2 lead, but referees ruled the goal had been knocked loose from its moorings. Under international rules, the goal was disallowed.
America’s Patrick Kane came achingly close to ending it when he broke free for a one-on-one encounter with Bobrovsky with 2:43 left.
Bobrovsky snuffed the shot and sent the game toward its tense finale.