The pre-Olympic favorite OAR fulfilled its destiny by winning gold, but Germany came within a minute of shocking the hockey world in what was an instant classic in Pyeongchang.
OAR WIN GOLD, BUT GERMANY NEARLY DELIVERS UPSET FOR THE AGES
It’s the result most expected, but it didn’t come in a way anyone could have imagined as the Olympic Athletes from Russia and Germany battled in a gold-medal game that was nothing short of an instant classic.
All the signs the game was going to be much tighter than most expected were there from the beginning, too. Though they were outshot by a two-to-one margin, putting six pucks towards OAR netminder Vasili Koshechkin while Danny aus den Birken faced 12 shots in the opening frame, the Germans played a nearly perfect first period considering they were — on paper — significantly overmatched up front and on the blueline. OAR, despite a significant edge in possession, had few quality opportunities and aus den Birken wasn’t forced to stand on his head. But just as it appeared the Germans would be able to carry a goalless draw into the first intermission, OAR caught a late break when a failed clearing attempt led to a turnover, which allowed Nikita Gusev to throw a pass back to Slava Voynov for a one-time goal with half a second remaining in the first.
A tally that had potential to completely deflate the Germans didn’t quite have that effect, however. In the second, Germany continued to hold steady and refused to allow many — or any, really — quality chances against in the opening half of the frame, and holding OAR off the board in the early going paid incredible dividends as the midpoint of the period approached. On one of the few German rushes up ice, Felix Schutz fought off a check as he attempted to drive the net. With space limited, Schutz simply threw a backhand on net that Koshechkin bottled, batting it behind himself and over the line to draw Germany level.
Off the post-goal faceoff, Germany nearly negated their tally, though, as Patrick Reimer was tagged for hooking, sending OAR to their second power play of the outing. But OAR was unable to generate much with the man advantage, and, shortly after Germany killed the penalty, it appeared they were primed for a massive opportunity as OAR was handed a four-minute high sticking penalty. However, the officiating crew reversed the call after seeing the in-house replay. It was the right call, to be sure, but the way the officials arrived at the decision was somewhat bizarre.
The third brought with it much the same as the previous two frames, with OAR pressing, Germany picking its spots and neither team willing to crack. That changed late in the third frame, though. With 6:40 remaining in regulation, Gusev scored a dandy, patiently out-waiting aus den Birken, who committed to covering a cross-ice pass, cheated off his post and was beat high over the short side for what looked like it would be the game-winning goal as OAR went ahead 2-1. Everyone watching should have known better, though, as the Germans refused to go away. Just 10 seconds later a broken play behind the OAR goal saw Dominik Kahun rifle home the tying goal.
Kahun’s goal gave the game the feeling that the game was in next-goal-wins territory, and while OAR would have been the odds-on favorite to get the next marker, Germany seemed to deliver one final bit of magic when Jonas Muller showed remarkable patience to get Pavel Datsyuk to bite on the block and Koshechkin to commit before firing one five-hole to put the Germans ahead 3-2 with three minutes remaining. But one of the most memorable and improbable gold-medal games in tournament history had more in store. As Germany wished time off the clock, Sergei Kalinin appeared to bury OAR’s gold medal hopes when he took a tripping penalty with 2:11 left in the third. Incredibly, though, the penalty kill came through for OAR when a scrambled play in front of the German goal resulted in Gusev chopping a loose puck over aus den Birken’s shoulder to knot the game at three inside the final minute, sending the gold-medal game to overtime.
Both sides entered the extra frame with caution, playing to avoid the error that would cost them the gold and it took several minutes before either team had a quality chance. When OAR finally broke through, it was about as great an opportunity as they could have had as Ilya Kovalchuk snuck past the German defense only to be stopped by the left pad of aus den Birken. But as OAR continued to press forward, Germany suffered a blow from which they would not recover as Patrick Reimer caught Datsyuk with a high stick, resulting in an overtime power play for OAR. On the ensuing 4-on-3 advantage, OAR used the big ice to spread out the German penalty killers just enough so that Gusev could feather a pass right into Kirill Kaprizov’s wheelhouse, and the OAR winger made no mistake, blasting a one-timer by aus den Birken for the golden goal.
OAR’s victory marks the first time in more than two decades that a men’s Olympic team featuring Russian players has captured gold, with Russian players previously helping the Unified Team finish atop the podium at the 1992 Albertville Olympics. And with the victory, Datsyuk became the 28th player to join the Triple Gold Club with golds at the Olympics and World Championship, as well as a pair of Stanley Cup victories.
As for Germany, they can and should be incredibly proud of their effort despite the heartbreaking defeat. The silver medal is the country’s best finish at the Olympics, and their run to the final and near victory made for one of the greatest stories in Olympic hockey history. Their journey to the final could inspire an entire generation of German players and could spark a new era in German hockey history.
1. Kirill Kaprizov (OAR): Scored the golden goal on an OAR power play to cap four-point night.
2. Nikita Gusev (OAR): Two goals and four points, including the game-tying goal for OAR.
3. Dominik Kahun (GER): One goal and three shots as Germany fell just short of gold.