By Steve Keating
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - It was not quite a "Miracle on Ice" but it was close enough for Germany as they celebrated an unlikely silver medal on Sunday after their enthralling battle with the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) ended in a dramatic 4-3 defeat.
The OAR team that stepped on to the Gangneung Hockey Centre ice were certainly not the Soviet Big Red Machine that once ruled over international hockey and were shocked by an unheralded team of American college players at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics in what became known as the Miracle on Ice.
But the David v Goliath storyline was the same on Sunday as Germany faced off against the might of the Russians.
The OAR in all its various incarnations, from the Soviet Union to a Unified Team that competed at the 1992 Albertville Winter Games, have won nine Olympic gold medals and have produced some of hockey's very best talent.
Germany were last on the podium at the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Games, winning bronze, and before that it was the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics where they also won bronze.
"We believed we could do something great here, for us this was our dream, our miracle," said a beaming German captain Marcel Goc. "It still seems a little unreal but once we get home, get off that plane and see friends, family we will realize what happened.
"We can proud; I don't think we lost (the gold) we won the silver medal."
The Germans had punched above their weight the entire tournament, beating hockey powerhouses Sweden and Canada, and they were not about to quit with the gold medal on the line.
With 55 seconds left to play in regulation, Germany actually had one hand on the gold when the medal was snatched from their grasp as Nikitia Gusev whacked at a bouncing puck in front of the German goal and it went in, forcing overtime.
Kirill Kaprizov then crushed German dreams by scoring the powerplay winner.
While the loss stung the German players, their coaches were able to find a silver lining behind a heroic effort.
"Absolutely (this was our Miracle on Ice), once in a lifetime," said German coach Marco Sturm. "These guys came so far. Unfortunately we didn't get the gold but they bring home a medal and that's something really special.
"It's a little tough right now because we all felt we could have won that game; that's hockey, that's just the way it is.
"We all thought we would be sitting at home watching the final on the couch but here we are.
"The boys are going to bring silver home and they should be very proud of it."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)