The Olympic Athletes from Russia used their superior playmaking to defeat a determined U.S. team in an emotional and intense game tonight in Gangneung.
The fighting spirit of the Americans was impressive, but OAR talent was simply too much.
Coupled with Slovakia’s overtime loss to Slovenia at Kwandong, the win puts OAR on top of Group B with six points, giving them a bye to the quarter-finals.
"It's good for us because when you play that extra game it takes a lot of energy out of you," said Ilya Kovalchuk.
Slovenia, United States, and Slovakia finish in a tie for second with four points, and none of those teams will earn the fourth bye, meaning they'll all play in the qualifying round on Tuesday.
Kovalchuk and Nikolai Prokhorkin each scored twice and Vasili Koshechkin was perfect and excellent in the Athletes' goal, stopping all 22 shots that came his way.
"We came out strong, we scored the first goal, and then our goalie made some great saves and I think our PK was special tonight," Kovalchuk said.
It was a game that featured countless scrums after whistles in the first two periods as players from both teams jostled, pushed, and shoved. Fans from both countries created a thrilling and taught energy with shouts of "Russ-i-a!" and "USA!".
The first period captured the very essence of the two nations. The OAR were the more skilled team in every aspect of speed and playmaking, but the Americans fought tenaciously and never gave up. Although shots favoured the OAR 13-11, the discrepancy seemed greater. Yet for all of that, it was only a 1-0 game.
That goal was a beautiful three-way passing play by Alexander Barbanov behind the net to Sergei Mozyakin at the faceoff dot to Prokhorkin at the crease who tipped the pass in at 7:21.
The Olympic Athletes could have—should have?—been up by more, and yet a long shot by Ryan Donato late in the period pinged off the crossbar. Two inches lower and it would have been a 1-1 game after 20 minutes.
Although the Athletes failed to score on a power play early in the second they got a second goal all the same soon after. Prokhorkin wired a log shot over the glove of Ryan Zapolski at 2:14, and the pressure continued.
And again the Americans had a great scoring chance, this time a clear break by captain Brian Gionta, but again they failed to cash in. It was a night of what if as much as not happening.
Broc Little made the play of the period for the U.S. hustling down ice to negate an icing and then creating a couple of good scoring chances, but Koshechkin was equal to the task.
And then the dagger. Kovalchuk moved the puck around in the U.S. end as time wound down, dished off to Sergei Andronov, and set up at the faceoff dot to await the return pass. He smoked a shot under the arm of Zapolski with just 0.2 seconds remaining in the period to make it 3-0.
Kovalchuk started the third as he ended the second. Taking a pass in full flight, he skated down the left side and snapped a wicked wrister over Zapolski’s glove just 28 seconds in to make it 4-0.
Little had another great shift and created a clear break in on Koshechkin, only to be stoned again by the goalie.
In the end, the OAR were the superior team, and for their efforts earn an extra game off. For the United States, elimination starts on Tuesday.