Saturday, February 16, 2002
Updated: February 17, 4:45 PM ET
U.S. rebounds late to salvage tie
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- Unlike 1980, this wasn't a must-win Olympic hockey game for either the United States or Russia -- so maybe it was fitting that neither team could.
Brett Hull scored off his own rebound with 4½ minutes left and the United States -- outshot and outskated most of the night by super-fast Russia -- managed a 2-2 tie Saturday in their first Olympic matchup in America since the Miracle on Ice.
Sergei Fedorov and Valeri Bure scored power-play goals as Russia put a seemingly safe 2-1 lead into the hands of goalie Nikolai Khabibulin in the third period, but the man known as the Bulin Wall gave up the tying score amid intense U.S. pressure.
"I thought it was great hockey by both teams," said coach Herb Brooks, back behind the U.S. bench for the first time since America's historic 1980 Olympic upset of the seemingly unbeatable Soviet Union.
With the United States throwing 15 shots at Russia in the final period -- Russia led 20-10 in shots after the first two periods -- Hull finally got the tying goal.
Hull, one of the highest-scoring Americans ever in the NHL, took Phil Housley's cross-ice pass in the left circle and, after fumbling his first attempt, swept the puck back onto his stick and line-drived it past Khabibulin at 15:30 of the third.
"It kind of sat there on the ice after the first shot," Hull said. "We had been waiting for another chance, and I managed to get it."
Mike Richter, the most experienced and successful U.S. goalie in international play, was equally strong. He didn't allow an equal-strength goal while making 33 saves against nearly nonstop pressure after the United States dominated the first five minutes.
"We got back on our heels a bit and gave them a lot of room, but we just started skating again (in the third period)," defenseman Brian Leetch said. "It was their puck control that gave us problems, not their defensive system."
Now, that was a throwback to '80, when the Russians' stylish weave-and-pass, control-the-puck strategy frustrated the rest of the world, even NHL all-star teams.
"We thought we should have won it, but Brett Hull is a great scorer," Russia forward Pavel Bure said. "There weren't too many chances for either team."
The tie all but assures that the United States and Russia will tie for their four-team pool championship, with total goals scored as the tiebreaker -- which favors the Americans, who play Belarus on Monday while Russia plays Finland. Winning the pool assures a more favorable quarterfinal matchup, almost certainly against Germany, but nothing else.
Also, the United States has already surpassed its dismal efforts in the 1998 games in Nagano, where it won only once in four games and smashed chairs in their dorm rooms after failing to reach the medal round.
The United States, its offense slowed by Russia's fast forwards and puck-moving defensemen, had only one shot in nearly 19 minutes until Keith Tkachuk finally scored the first goal at 6:19 of the second period -- and it took a 5-on-3 power play to get it.
Brian Leetch's shot from the left point deflected off defenseman Darius Kasparaitis' skate in front of the net and, just as Khabibulin was about to cover it with his glove, Tkachuk skated by and whacked it into the net, setting off a delirious wave of noise from a red, white and blue-wearing crowd that was noisy from the opening faceoff.
Tkachuk later injured a leg, but Brooks said after the game he wasn't certain how bad it was or what was the exact nature of the injury.
Russia put itself in the precarious situation when Ilya Kovalchuk (holding) and Vladimir Malakhov (elbowing) drew penalties 32 seconds apart just when the Russians had started to control the tempo and flow.
"But there was no bad stuff out there," Russian forward Igor Larionov said. "It was all skill. It's a fun kind of hockey to play."
But Russia later answered with a power play goal of its own. With John LeClair, the three-goal star of Friday night's 6-0 victory over Finland off for interference, Malakhov threaded a cross-ice pass through traffic to Bure at the left circle hash marks, and his one-timer whizzed through Richter's pads just as the goalie threw one leg up to try to deflect the puck.
Even with the pumped-up, flag-waving crowd and Brooks behind the U.S. bench, almost everything about hockey has changed since the United States' historic 4-3 victory over the Soviet hockey machine in 1980.
Then, the Soviet Union had arguably the world's best team, amateur in name only, and was able to keep some of the world's best players together for years because a communist government blocked them from playing in the NHL.
Now, every player in Saturday's game plays professionally in North America, and the same Russian players who were being booed will be cheered again in their NHL rinks in only 10 days. And Russian coach Slava Fetisov, who played in the 1980 game, will go back to being a New Jersey Devils' adviser, helping players such as U.S. defenseman Brian Rafalski.