By Frank Pingue
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russia were left heartbroken after their 3-2 shootout loss to the United States in the men's ice hockey competition at the Sochi Winter Olympics on Saturday.
The Russians may not have the same depth as the United States or Canada but were still taking some comfort from pushing one of the gold favorites to the brink and sending a message to all their rivals that they are a legitimate threat to win the title.
"The U.S. team is a good team, a good test for us. I think our team played great tonight, but our result was not good," Russian captain Pavel Datsyuk told reporters.
"It's one game. We need to play at the same level every time and we'll be OK."
The game evoked memories of the "Miracle on Ice", when a group of American college players defied the odds to beat a much more experienced Soviet Union squad at the 1980 Olympics.
Saturday's game was not the David and Goliath matchup from 34 years ago but it was played at a furious pace, filled with bone-jarring hits and scoring chances in front of a raucous home crowd that spent much of the contest waving Russian flags and chanting along to a spectator's drum beat.
Russia tied the game at 2-2 in the third period and appeared to have taken the lead in the closing minutes but an apparent goal from defenseman Fyodor Tyutin was waved off because the U.S. net was slightly dislodged.
The United States went on to win the game in a dramatic shootout that lasted eight rounds, scoring four goals to the three from the Russians.
"The match was very good. We are a very good team, we tore them up, but there was a little bit missing," Tyutin told reporters. "There's nothing scary about that. We need to go forward."
The Russians beat Slovenia 5-2 on Thursday but arguably played better in Saturday's loss to the United States.
They played a higher-paced game, drew energy from a boisterous crowd, that included President Vladimir Putin, and thrived in the high-pressure environment against an old rival.
"We managed ourselves very well in extreme situations. We played great in defense and we didn't give them a lot of chances," said Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk.
"Everything is OK, nothing terrible has happened. We played good and showed our character by equalizing the game at the end and now we will be getting ready for the future.
"I hope we will get a chance to play against them again."
If the two teams do meet again at the Sochi Games it will come in the single-elimination knockout phase of the 12-team tournament where the sting of defeat will stick with the loser for some time.
"Play the same game (next time) and we'll win," said Russian forward Evgeni Malkin. "It was a good game, very interesting, the best game we played so far. We showed great hockey."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue; editing by Julian Linden)
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