Team USA earned a gritty 2-0 win over Switzerland on Wednesday behind a 19-save, shutout performance from Ryan Miller and two goals from Zach Parise. The Americans will play for a medal for the first time since 2002 in Salt Lake City, when they lost to Canada in the gold-medal game.
The Americans ran into a hot goaltender Wednesday in Jonas Hiller — who made 42 saves in a losing effort — and they also had two goals rightfully waved off. Still, they U.S. players remained focused and determined, pulling off another huge win to keep their Cinderella run alive in Vancouver.
Hiller was simply amazing in net for the Swiss and, similarly, when the Swiss had their chances, Miller, too, was ready. The two goalies kept the puck out of the net for the first two periods of play, though the USA almost broke the deadlock at the end of the second frame.
As the clock ticked toward zero, Hiller bobbled a Ryan Kesler shot, the puck bounced off his shoulder and dropped into the net. But, as replays showed, by the time the puck crossed the line, time had expired. At that point, it would have been understandable if frustration took over for the U.S., but they apparently regrouped during the intermission and, at the start of the third, they picked up right where they had left off.
With Swiss defenseman Philippe Furrer in the sin bin for tripping, the Americans finally beat Hiller as Parise tipped in a Brian Rafalski shot from the point 2:08 in to give the red, white and blue a 1-0 lead. Paul Stastny had the other assist on the play.
Shortly after Parise's goal, the Swiss almost tied it on a Sandy Jeannin shot that beat Miller and rang off the inside of the post before trickling back through the goal mouth. However, Kesler (who seemed to be involved in every controversial play) was in perfect position and cleared it out of harm's way. The play was later reviewed and the no-goal ruling was upheld.
Then, almost immediately after that, the USA appeared to take a two-goal lead when Kesler scored, tipping in another shot from the point. But the Canucks forward was called for interference before the goal, and once again the U.S. was forced to rebound from a bad break and kill off a Swiss man advantage in the process. However, just as they did after the no-goal to end the second period, the Americans stayed strong and killed off the power play.
The penalty kill was actually a huge factor in this win as the Americans killed off all four Switzerland power plays with numerous blocked shots, including key stops from Tim Gleason, Erik Johnson and forward Chris Drury during the Kesler penalty. Even during even-strength play, though, the U.S. was blocking shots and did well in preventing the Swiss from finding open lanes to the net. If they did get close to goal, Miller was ready and continued his splendid puck-stopping.
The Swiss surprisingly pulled their goalie with 1:43 still left on the clock, figuring they needed all the attackers they could get to create better chances and tie the game. But after several more blocked shots and big saves from Miller, Parise sealed the deal with 12 seconds left, scoring an empty-net goal and sending the American fans in attendance into chants of "USA! USA!"
While the win over Canada on Sunday has been probably the most memorable for the USA to this point in Vancouver, Wednesday's victory has more significance because it now ensures the Americans a chance at a medal. They will next play the winner of Wednesday night's Finland-Czech Republic game in the semifinals on Friday. If they win Friday's semi, the U.S. will then play Canada, Russia, Sweden or Slovakia in the Olympic final. Canada battles Russia and Sweden plays Slovakia later Wednesday night.
But beyond the medal significance, this win provided another strong gut-check for this young American squad. Beating Canada, the host nation and tournament favorite, resulted in plenty of confidence for the U.S., but early on, this game had all the makings of a let-down. Hiller, as expected, was in the zone and played a huge role giving his upset-minded Swiss squad a chance to win. Heading in, many wondered how the Americans would react to Hiller making save after save, but they kept firing, adapted to the game and never allowed frustration get the best of them.
The U.S. players are coming together more and more each game, and they have already proven that they can succeed in numerous environments and deal with each opponent's different style. That will benefit this team going forward, but it won't get any easier from here on in.
Still, this team appears gritty, skilled and controlled enough to tackle any obstacle it might face — and if it's not, at least it will go down fighting. Hopefully hockey fans in this country will continue to take notice of the feel-good story that has become the 2010 USA Men's Olympic hockey team.
1. Zach Parise
2. Jonas Hiller
3. Ryan Kesler