KEARNS, Utah In a game not quite as miraculous but almost as dramatic as the last one they played on American ice, the United States and Russia tied 2-2 in the middle round of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Brett Hull scored with four minutes, 30 seconds remaining Saturday to help Team USA come back against a younger, perhaps more skilled team at the E Center. After five minutes of pressing for the tying goal and having been out-skated for much of the middle of the game, the U.S. scored when Phil Housley centered a pass to Hull in the slot and the sniper banged his second attempt past the right shoulder of Russian goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
"It was a great game,'' said Hull, who had fanned on an earlier scoring attempt midway through the third period and was stopped by Khabibulin on a wrist shot through traffic a minute later. "They skate so well and they're so strong, it takes a great effort to do what we did.
"Hopefully we'll keep it going.''
The tie also leaves the U.S. and Russia tied in the Group D standings after both teams won their opening games of the tournament Friday. The Americans can advance to the medal round with a win over qualifier Belarus Monday at 1 p.m. (EST). Three of the four teams in Group D will advance to the elimination portion of the tournament.
A loss Saturday would have significantly hurt Team USA's chances of winning its third straight gold medal on home ice, following upset victories in 1980 in Lake Placid and 1960 in Squal Valley.
But perhaps not as much as it would have hurt after staying so close to the high-flying Russians throughout the game.
"The confidence was still there that we could come back and score a goal,'' said John LeClair, who rung a shot off the post near the end of the second period less than a minute after Russia had tied the score 1-1. "We just had to keep going. Coach (Herb) Brooks is doing a good job getting everybody involved and using all the lines.''
Team USA controlled the early play, holding Russia without a shot on goal for the first 8:47, but only escaped the second period tied because of Mike Richter's goaltending.
The New York Rangers' net-minder turned back several quality scoring opportunities as Russia out-shot the U.S. 17-4 in the middle 20 minutes. He was at his best midway through the period, stopping six straight shots, including three from point blank and one on a breakaway.
Then, after he stoned Ilya Kovalchuk when the Russian left wing had sneaked in alone, he made three more saves in rapid succession with the U.S. short-handed.
But, with 2:52 remaining in the period, Russia's pressure paid off when Vladimir Malakhov sent a pass from the right boards to Valeri Bure all alone in the left circle and Bure beat Richter with a wrist shot to the short side.
Still, Richter's 33 saves were the primary reason the U.S. remains in position to improve on its fifth-place finish in Nagano.
"We have a lot of guys returning to this team and I think it's a matter of respecting your opponent more,'' said Richter. "Hopefully it's a matter of learning from your mistakes.''
Savannah Morning News sports columnist Tim Guidera is part of a Morris News Service team covering the 2002 Winter Olympics.
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