T.J. Oshie slowly curled to his right, crossed the blue line and skated toward his target, setting up what would be the final shot of a Saturday showdown between the United States and Russia.
It was the eighth round of a nail-biting shootout in Sochi, each team taking turns in one-on-one matchups that would decide an already thrilling game loaded with Olympic tension and an echo of the U.S.’s 1980 “Miracle on Ice” upset of the Soviet Union.
Oshie, a 27-year-old forward from Minnesota who plays in the National Hockey League for the St. Louis Blues, was coolly shouldering the Americans’ hopes.
Oshie is not one of the American stars- he was one of the last players picked for the U.S. team and never has had a 20-goal season in the NHL. But he is what you¹d call a shootout specialist- someone that when called upon, can take the enemy out with a single shot. He currently ranks second in the NHL this season with a 52.3 percent shootout scoring rate.
That is why U.S. coach Dan Bylsma chose him to return to the ice, time and again, to keep the Americans alive.
The lonely role does not come up in the NHL, where coaches have to use a different player in each round of a shootout. But international rules allowed Bylsma to choose whoever he wanted after the first three matchups.
As each round against the Russians ended in a draw, Oshie kept looking back at the bench, making sure Bylsma still wanted him out there. Each time, Oshie got the nod.
“Just score goals," Oshie recalled telling himself. "Score as many goals as you can.”
By the start of the eighth round, he was three for five against Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovski. But he was nervous.
“I’m running out of moves here,” Oshie thought.
Oshie's approach to shootouts seems almost casual to the untrained eye. He winds his way from center ice, then makes his final move with a quickness that can leave a goalie standing, frozen, as the puck passes between his legs.
That’s what Oshie did in his opening shot against Bobrovski. He’d try it again now.
Oshie moved toward the goal. The largely Russian crowd settled into a focused roar. He pulled up between the face-off circles, about 10 feet from Bobrovski, rotated right, flicked his wrists and sent the puck low and center, straight into the five-hole.
Bobrovski crumpled as the puck wobbled into the net.
Oshie turned and skated to his teammates, pointing at goalie Jonathan Quick, the game's other hero. They mobbed him.
“It was a little nerve-racking, but I got through it,” Oshie said afterward.
He added: “A lot of fun.”