West Valley City, Utah The puck dropped, the final second ticked away and, like little boys, the Americans mobbed each other around goaltender Mike Richter. They had survived.
The Russians mounted a frantic comeback attempt in the third period of the men's hockey semifinals Friday night, but the Americans held on for a 3-2 victory, and they will go for gold Sunday against Canada.
"It's almost too good to be true," U.S. captain Chris Chelios said.
Bill Guerin, Scott Young and Phil Housley scored rebound power-play goals for the Americans. Then Alexei Kovalev and Vladimir Malakhov scored early in the third period for the Russians, and the teams made a mad dash to the end.
On the 22nd anniversary of the "Miracle on Ice," the shocking U.S. upset of the Soviet Union in the semifinals at Lake Placid, N.Y., the Americans and Russians were magnificent on ice. They skated. They scored. With speed and skill and savvy, they played some of the most entertaining hockey you'll ever see.
"That third period was an onslaught of some of the best talent in the world at the highest pace possible," forward Jeremy Roenick said. "My heart was in my stomach for the whole third period. I almost threw up."
The Americans' game plan was obvious: Pump as many shots as possible at goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and crash the net. With the Tampa Bay Lightning, Khabibulin has been perhaps the NHL's best goaltender this season, and he outdueled Dominik Hasek on Wednesday in a 1-0 quarterfinal victory over the Czech Republic.
In the first period, the Americans outshot Russia, 20-4. They didn't score until their 18th shot: a rebound that Guerin smacked it in.
Young added his goal at the 7:31 mark of the second period. A little more than 10 minutes later, at 17:39, Housley added his score to put Team USA up 3-0.
Just 11 seconds into the third, the Russians struck back. Kovalev swooped in ahead of a U.S. defender and swiped the puck past Richter.
Just 3:10 later, the Russians cut the U.S. lead to 3-2 when Malakhov fired the puck from the point through Richter's pads.
Immediately afterward, U.S. coach Herb Brooks called timeout.
"I think we went out and thought, 'Maybe it's just going to happen for us and they're going to roll over,' and they didn't," said the Americans' Brett Hull, a Red Wings forward. "They're a great team, and they came back at us, and we had to play our (rears) off to win."
Hull went off for hooking Alexei Yashin at 8:19. Richter robbed somebody with his glove. Someone else hit the side of the net. With Richter on the ice, someone else put the puck in his pads, then Sergei Samsonov chipped the puck off the right post. Detroit Red Wings center Sergei Fedorov put his arms up in celebration it was so close.
"They kept a puck in for a minute and a half," U.S. captain Tony Amonte said. "Our penalty-killers were gassed. They had nothing left in their legs. We were just praying for the puck to get out. Everybody on our bench was standing up. That was the turning point in the game. We needed that kill bad."
Russia coach Slava Fetisov was upset.
"They're professional people, these NHL referees," he said. "But they live here. They know the players. They're Americans or Canadians. In a crucial situation, it's human reaction to situation they're not going to call the penalty. We play all third period in their zone, and we got only one power play."