The U.S. men's hockey team was blanked by a revitalized Olympic Athletes from Russia team Saturday, letting in four goals, including two on either side of the second intermission, in a sometimes scrappy final round-robin game.
It's the Americans' second loss of the tournament, after losing to Slovenia in their opener, but they're not out — the U.S. will play in the opening elimination round on Tuesday. Russia earned a bye to the quarterfinals.
"We still have plenty of tournament left in us," captain Brian Gionta said after the game. "If we bounce back like we did after game 1, I like our chances."
The Russians were the favorites going into the Pyeongchang Games, and outclassed Team USA through large parts of Saturday's match. Most of the world's best players play in the NHL, which didn't allow its athletes to participate in the Olympics, but some top Russians play in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League, which did allow players to participate.
The Russian roster was entirely made up of KHL players, and they pressed their advantage early. Nikolai Prokhorkin opened the scoring after seven minutes, tapping home a centering pass from Sergei Mozyakin before getting leveled by a hit.
Prokhorkin scored again in the second period, snapping a shot over U.S. goalie Ryan Zapolski's glove, and the Russians struck again before the period was over.
The Americans fought along the boards to keep the deficit at two as the clock wound down, but couldn't clear the puck from their zone. Instead, it was worked deep by Sergei Andronov, who passed it to former New Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk by the blue line. Kovalchuk's slap shot went in with 0.2 seconds on the clock.
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Kovalchuk tallied again less than 30 seconds into the third period, slipping into the U.S. zone at speed and shooting off the post past Zapolski.
An early, heavy hit from another Russian who used to play in the NHL, Pavel Datsyuk, set the tone of the game, which saw more hitting and some scrums after the whistle.
Like the U.S., the Russians had lost their opening game. But Russia bounced back from the 3-2 loss to Slovakia by routing Slovenia 8-2, giving them momentum going into the game against the U.S. Depending on results of the final two games, any of the four teams in the group could advance to the quarterfinals.
While the Russians aren't competing under their country's flag due to a national doping scandal, the two countries have plenty of Olympic hockey history. Leaving aside the "Miracle on Ice" game, a dramatic overtime shootout win for the U.S. helped knock out Russia on home ice in the 2014 Sochi Games.
In the other Group B game, Slovenia topped Slovakia in a shootout, earning a second-place finish in the group. The U.S. finished third and Slovakia fourth, which will affect seeding in the elimination round.
Team USA's collegiate athletes had led the charge on the ice through the first two games of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Ryan Donato scored twice in USA’s victory against Slovakia, Jordan Greenway netted one of his own in the game vs. Slovenia and Troy Terry’s electric speed has caught everyone’s attention.
However, behind the scenes, leaders such as Brian Gionta, Matt Gilroy and others have cultivated an environment for the inexperienced youth to seamlessly blend in.
“I’ve been so overwhelmed by how nice they’ve been and welcoming to me and the other college guys,” Terry said of the veterans in an exclusive interview with NBC Olympics. “They’ve been so good to us, and I’ve been trying to pick their brains and learn as much as I can."
Terry’s dazzling vision and brilliant playmaking ability was front and center when he split two Slovakian defenders and left a drop pass for a cutting Donato to give the U.S. the lead against Slovenia. But the 20-year-old forward needed the opening game to prove to himself that he can thrive on the Olympic stage.
“The first game was big for me just to get a couple shifts and realize that I belong here,” Terry explained. “The guys might be older and bigger, but I can still make an impact and be a big part for the team. We all got some confidence, and we definitely carried that with us. In a tournament like this, with how fast the college guys are, I think it’s a big advantage for us.”