The Olympic Athletes from Russia triumphed in the no-NHL tournament they were favored to win at an Olympics under the cloud of doping where they couldn’t even be called Russia or use their colors and anthem.
Kirill Kaprizov scored the game-winner as “Team Olympic Athlete From Russia” came back to beat underdog Germany 4-3 in overtime Sunday in an instant classic that saved a men’s tournament that lacked interest in-arena in a nontraditional hockey country and back in North America where the NHL season went on without an Olympic break. It’s the first Russian gold medal in hockey since 1992 in Albertville when the team also played under a neutral flag as the Community of Independent States, another Games under these circumstances of the NHL staying home.
Constantly saying it doesn’t matter that they had to wear nondescript red and white uniforms that lacked the Russian Coat of Arms, players gave the Russians their second gold and 17th total medal of the tournament.
This one was expected all along.
After saying he might go to South Korea even though the NHL skipped this trip, Alex Ovechkin continued his pursuit of 600 goals back in Washington with the Capitals but told players before the tournament to win for him and end the country’s 26-year gold medal drought.
Stocked with former NHL players — Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Voynov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Nesterov — the Russians were by far the most talented team in the tournament. U.S. coach Tony Granato said they may be as good as 20 of the 31 NHL teams.
The talent from the Kontinental Hockey League was overflowing all tournament and especially in the final against Germany, which has all of its players from leagues in its homeland. Nikita Gusev — who’s second in KHL scoring behind Kovalchuk and third in goals — had the go-ahead and tying goals in the third period to take the honor of being one of the Russians’ heroes.
Goaltender Vasily Koshechkin let in a fluke goal to Felix Schultz and was hung out to dry on Dominik Kahun’s goal that answered Gusev’s first goal 10 seconds later. Koshechkin came out to challenge when Jonas Muller slid the puck along the ice for what looked like the game-winner with 3:16 left.
A penalty to Russian forward Sergei Kalinin with 2:11 remaining threatened to end the Russians’ gold-medal bid in similar disappointment to their quarterfinal loss on home ice in Sochi four years ago. Instead, with Koshechkin pulled for the extra attacker to make it 5-on-5, Gusev scored again to help send the game to overtime.
There, Germany goaltender Danny aus den Birken needed to make an edge-of-his-pad save on Kovalchuk all alone driving to the net to keep the game going. An ill-timed high-sticking penalty on Germany’s Patrick Reimer 9:11 into overtime put the highly skilled Russians on the power play, where Kaprizov scored the winner and one of the biggest goals in Russian hockey history.
The victory on the ice came hours after the country got a loss off it when the International Olympic Committee voted not to reinstate Team Russia for Sunday night’s closing ceremony. It’s the first time the Olympic anthem played in-arena during
Russia had to wait two weeks for its first gold in Pyeongchang before the 15-year-old figure skater Alina Zagitova won with two flawless programs.
Voynov, at the Olympics because he was banned from the NHL in 2015 for his domestic abuse conviction, cashed in on a brutal turnover by Germany’s Yasin Ehliz in the final moments of the first period. Voynov’s shot from just inside the blue line got past aus den Birken and in with just 0.5 seconds on the clock, the kind of killer goal that changes the tide of the game.
Russian goal song “Those Were The Days” blared over the Gangneung Hockey Centre speakers as fans clad in red, white and blue and holding flags celebrated.
The Russians had the momentum for much of the first half of the second until a fluke bounce tied the score 9:32 in. Schultz put a backhander on net from a sharp angle, and the puck went off Koshechkin’s right thigh and in.
A strange moment came 13 minutes in when Ilya Kabulov was assessed a four-minute double-minor penalty for high-sticking Daryl Boyle, but after review officials determined Christian Ehrhoff actually clipped his Germany teammate in the face.
The Russians had perhaps their best scoring chance of the second when Voynov and fellow defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov somehow had numbers on a 2-on-1 rush. Yannic Seidenberg did a great impression of brother and New York Islanders blue-liner Dennis by sliding to break up the pass from Gavrikov to Voynov to potentially save a goal.
Patrick Reimer slid without a stick to break up another Russian 2-on-1 with about seven minutes left in the third as Germany went all out to keep the score tied. The Germans couldn’t do it forever, and the Russians’ skilled second line made a goal happen.
After Pavel Datsyuk and Kirill Kaprizov did the work to get Gusev _ the KHL’s second leading scorer behind Ilya Kovalchuk and third in gaols _ shot the puck off the back of aus den Birken’s mask and in to give the Russians a 2-1 lead with 6:39 left in the third. Before the public address announcer could announce Gusev’s third goal of the tournament, Germany answered right back.
Turning away from a defender and holding on to the puck, Frank Mauer fed it to a wide-open Kahun for the go-ahead goal with 6:29 remaining as Germany erupted. The mood changed entirely when Gusev scored with 55.5 seconds left in regulation.
In overtime, Kovalchuk had a Grade-A chance to win it, but he couldn’t elevate the puck over Danny aus den Birken’s left pad. An ill-timed high-sticking penalty on Germany’s Patrick Reimer proved costly when Gusev dished the puck to Kaprizov _ a Minnesota Wild prospect playing in the KHL _ for the winner.
NOTES: Russian forward Sergi Kalinin suffered an apparent right arm or shoulder injury in the third period when he crashed into the post and was attended to on the bench. He came back to the game. … Unlike in some past Games, men’s hockey was not the final medal event with cross-country skiing going on in Pyeongchang. … Islanders prospect Ilya Sorokin backed up Koshechkin, while very brief Vegas Golden Knights forward Vadim Shipachyov was a healthy scratch.