Russians win gold but Germany steals show in Olympic hockey

While the 2018 Olympic men’s hockey tournament may have been short on NHL players, it wasn’t short on exciting and improbable moments. Sunday’s gold medal game between Germany and the Olympic Athletes from Russia was the highlight of the tournament: a David-versus-Goliath showdown that went back and forth before the Russians prevailed 4-3 in overtime.

The lack of NHL participation gave the Russian squad a decided advantage due to the availability of KHL players like former NHL superstars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. Despite being unable to compete under their country’s flag due to an ongoing doping scandal and losing their opening game to Slovakia, the Olympic Athletes from Russia coasted through to the gold medal game, dominating opponents on offense and defense. Germany took a decidedly different path to the final, losing its opening two games and needing a shootout to defeat Norway in the group stage. The Germans stunned perennial powerhouse Sweden in the quarterfinal round, and did the same to Canada in the semifinals, ensuring the country’s best-ever finish in Olympic hockey, which was previously a bronze medal.

The Russians were the better team through two periods, but the score was tied 1-1 thanks to a lucky bounce for Germany and plenty of cagey defensive play. It was Nikita Gusev’s goal with 6:39 remaining in the third period that opened the floodgates and unleashed one of the craziest stretches in Olympic hockey history. Germany responded immediately, driving the puck deep into the offensive zone and collapsing the Russian defense below their own goal line before Frank Mauer found Dominik Kahun alone in front of the net to restore the tie 10 seconds after Gusev had scored.

Jonas Muller gave Germany its first lead of the game three minutes later, and it briefly appeared as though the underdogs would give their Cinderella story a fairytale ending when Russian forward Sergei Kalinin was called for tripping in the final minutes of regulation. But the Russians attacked while shorthanded and pulled their goaltender to equalize the number of skaters, resulting in Gusev’s second goal of the period to make it 3-3 with 56 seconds remaining. Neither team had many chances in overtime until German forward Patrick Reimer was called for high sticking and the Russian duo of Gusev and Kirill Kaprizov capitalized on the opportunity, ending the game 9:40 into the extra period.

Gusev and Kaprizov each finished the game with four points, climbing to the top of the tournament leaderboard with 12 and 9 points, respectively. Gusev is an established star in the KHL, while Kaprizov is a budding 20-year-old talent, and together they helped their country win hockey gold for the first time since 1992 - even if they couldn’t celebrate it under their flag. But Germany came very close to pulling off the biggest upset since the 1980 Miracle on Ice, and their run to the gold medal game will likely be remembered just as well as the Olympic Athletes from Russia’s victory.