USA vs. Russia: Olympic Ramifications from Pivotal Hockey Clash

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USA vs. Russia: Olympic Ramifications from Pivotal Hockey Clash
Petr David Josek/Associated Press

The United States and Russia headline what is undoubtedly the most difficult group in the Olympic hockey tournament, so naturally, when they clashed on Saturday, it was the must-watch game of the round-robin stage.

Obviously, both teams entered the game intent on securing a bye to the quarterfinals, as each squad knew this would be the toughest game it would have to play, and the level of passion and intensity was evident on every shift. 

At times, the Russians looked like a team possessed, but the U.S. kept fighting back and eventually capitalized on a pair of careless penalties by Alexander Radulov.

Yes, the United States was fortunate to have Russia's potential game-winner disallowed due to the net mysteriously being dislodged, but shootouts have long been a part of international hockey, and T.J. Oshie's hot hand secured a very important win for the Americans.

After one of the most spirited Olympic tilts in recent memory, here's a look at how the outcome impacts each team's road to the medal round going forward.

 

Russia

A shootout loss was certainly not what the hosts were hoping for in the most anticipated game of the opening round, but things could've been worse for Russia.

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After Russia went down 2-1 midway through the third, it looked as if the U.S. would be able to clamp down defensively and grab the full three points, but Pavel Datsyuk's response may be what propels his team to the quarterfinals.

It's very unlikely that any other team will finish the round-robin stage with as many points as Russia outside of the respective group leaders, so ultimately, this loss probably won't mean a lot as far as matchups go.

Unless Canada loses to Finland in overtime or vice versa, Russia will claim the fourth spot. Given that Finland's missing arguably its two most dangerous forwards in Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula due to injury, Mike Babcock's boys should be able to take care of business.

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Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Semin and Ilya Kovalchuk are each due for a goal or two, and against a sneaky yet inferior opponent in Slovakia (the team that just lost to Slovenia 3-1), it's tough to envision a scenario in which the Russians wouldn't earn the bye.

That being said, in order for Russia to at least medal on home soil, Datsyuk, Ovechkin and company will have to find a way to beat an elite team, because it's been a while since they've done so at the Olympics.

 

United States

For the U.S., this win over a legitimate gold-medal favorite is a signal to the rest of the field that the Americans are not to be taken lightly on the big ice as they have in past Olympics outside North America.

But more importantly, it all but guarantees them a trip through to the quarterfinals, which will be particularly important if coach Dan Bylsma's plan is to ride Quick for the duration of the tournament.

And, with the U.S. playing Slovenia in its final game of the group stage, it's a virtual certainty that the U.S. will end that round with eight points, which puts it in a great spot to roll to the medal round.

Jonathan Quick was the better goaltender on the ice, and that's got to have the U.S. feeling confident about its chances, as his counterpart in this situation was the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Sergei Bobrovski. Once again, Quick looks like the clutch goalie who won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe in 2012.

Clive Mason/Getty Images

This isn't the most skilled team of the 12 at the games, but sometimes that isn't the deciding factor in a short tournament like this. 

Bylsma's club plays a disciplined game and made things difficult for Russia's sublimely skilled forwards. In particular, the U.S. managed to limit Ovechkin, the game's most lethal sniper, to a handful of chances, which is an encouraging sign going forward.

 

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