SOCHI, Russia – T.J. Oshie's magic in shootouts was a frequent topic of conversation when general manager David Poile and his selection committee chose the U.S. Olympic team roster.
"You know at some point we are going to end up in a shootout, and we are going to want T.J. Oshie," Poile said more than once.
Coaches had the same mindset about Oshie's specialty. The Americans appreciated what he brought to the team in general, but they loved his shootout prowess. He was like the team's ace in the hole, a guy who habitually hits it out of the park when it was needed most.
The "some point" that Poile talked about came Saturday when Oshie converted four of six shootout chances against Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to give the Americans a wildly entertaining 3-2 shootout win against the Russians.
"I've never seen anything quite like that," said U.S. defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "I never knew he had that in his repertoire, all of those moves."
Oshie scored right after U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick stood his ground to force Ilya Kovalchuk to miss for the second time in four chances.
"I think I aged two years in that shootout," U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said.
In the NHL this season, Oshie is 7-for-10 in shootout attempts, with two game-deciding goals. U.S. captain Zach Parise said he felt nervous for Oshie.
Unlike in the NHL where a player shoots only once, international rules allow for using the same player over and over once three different players have been used.
At one point, Pavel Datsyuk scored to give Russia a 2-1 lead in the shootout. Oshie had to score on his next shot, or Russia would have won. He did.
"It was somewhat of a chess match – he kept him guessing," said U.S. center Joe Pavelski, who missed his shootout attempt.
Oshie doesn't recall ever facing Bobrovsky in a shootout.
"I was just trying to think of something to do," Oshie said.
U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick wasn't surprised by Oshie's performance. "I've faced him a few times in the shootout and I didn't do well against him," he said.
Backes said he has seen that move 1,000 times in St. Louis Blues practices.
"It kind of makes me chuckle when I see it," Backes said, adding, "His hockey sense is off the charts and he makes plays. Today, he got to do it in front of a lot of spectators here and back home."
A crowd of 11,678, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, was on the edge of their seats for the entire game that was intense and hard fought from the opening faceoff.
Russia's hockey players probably have more pressure on them than any other athletes in the Games because they are expected to win the gold medal. It's been said the Russian people won't view the Olympic Games as a success unless the hockey team wins a gold medal.
"Everything is OK, nothing terrible has happened," said Russian wing Ilya Kovalchuk. "We played good and showed our character by equalizing the game at the end."
Since this was only a preliminary round game, Russia still has a chance of winning the gold medal. But the win helps the Americans because it puts them in an excellent position to earn a bye into the quarterfinals.
To win their group, the Americans only need a win against Slovenia on Sunday. On Saturday, Slovenia upset Slovakia. Slovenia lost 5-2 Russia in its first game.
The Russians thought they had produced the game winner on a shot by Fedor Tyutin with 4:40 remaining in the game, but the goal was disallowed because the net was slightly dislodged.
Even the Americans admitted that was a big break.
"I saw it was off, but I didn't know if it was before or after the puck went in," Quick said.
With Dustin Brown in the penalty box, Datsyuk tied the score with a power play goal with 7:16 remaining in the third period. It was his second goal of the game.
Midway through the third period, Joe Pavelski scored a power play goal to give USA a 2-1 lead. Patrick Kane set up the goal by threading a perfect pass through bodies in the slot.
The game was as tight and hotly contested as it was expected to be.
The symbol of intensity came early in the game when USA's Ryan Callahan and Russia's Evgeny Medvedev stood nose-to-nose jawing each other after a whistle.
There might not have been a more heated exchange between a Russian and American since President Kennedy exchanged words with Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile crisis.
That level of intensity continued throughout the game. Backes was a beast for the Americans, using his big body to be a physical defensive force.
At one point, he threw heavy body checks against both Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin on the same shift
He also mixed it up with Tyutin. The Russians aren't known for their physical play, but these Russians resembled the hard-to-play-against Blues more than the Big Red Machine of CCCP era.
In the past, the Russians could be spooked by physical play. Not this era of Russians. They mixed it up push for shove against an American team that was built with the idea that they needed an edge to their game to succeed.
These two gritty teams could end up facing each other again in the medal round.