By Steve Keating
SOCHI, Russia Feb 15 (Reuters) - The United States won a shootout thriller over Russia in a 'Miracle on Ice' rematch on Saturday, while Slovenia pulled off a major upset by beating Slovakia in the men's ice hockey competition at the Sochi Winter Games.
In a heavyweight clash evoking memories of the 1980 Olympics 'Miracle on Ice' when a group of American college players upset the former-Soviet Union's 'Big Red Machine', T.J. Oshie delivered the knockout punch in a 3-2 win, scoring on four of his six attempts in an epic shootout to deny Russia their Lake Placid revenge.
Before the former Cold War rivals took to the ice, Slovenia, who are taking part in the competition for the first time, shocked 2002 world champions Slovakia 3-1.
Slovakia were left dazed as Slovenia broke open a scoreless contest with three goals in the third period.
Rok Ticar, Tomaz Razinger and Anze Kopitar all found the net to hand Slovenia their biggest ever ice hockey win.
"It's kind of a miracle," said Slovenia netminder Robert Kristan, who made 27 saves in the win.
Switzerland also closed out their preliminary round play with a stunner, seeing off 1998 Olympic champions the Czech Republic 1-0 on a goal from Simon Bodenmann while Jonas Hiller made 26 save to earn the shutout.
The Swiss have managed just two goals in three games but have made both of them count, collecting a pair victories to take second spot in Group C behind Sweden.
The injury-hit Swedes, who have lost three of their top players, eased past winless Latvia to finish top of the group with a perfect record of 3-0.
The marquee match of the preliminary between the United States and Russia delivered on everything promised; breathtaking pace, skill, intensity, great goaltending and plenty of edge-of-your seat drama.
Everything except a win for the hosts.
U.S. coach Dan Bylsma called on Oshie, who is regarded as a shootout specialist, six times to face Russia netminder Sergei Bobrovsky and he put four of them past him to spoil Russian President Vladimir Putin's night.
In the eighth round of the shootout, Oshie pulled out a showstopper, freezing Bobrovsky and firing the puck between the Russian's pads to end the preliminary round thriller.
Even before Oshie had time to change out of his gear, team mates were predicting children back home in the United States would be out on the streets playing road hockey, or at the rinks pulling 'an Oshie'.
"I think you are going to see T.J. Oshie be a household name after that display he put on today," said David Backes. "Kids will be out on the pond, probably in Minnesota right now, throwing a five-hole on the goalie three or four times in a row." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)