Jonas Hiller almost pulled it off.
The one thing we all knew about the goalie for Switzerland's Olympic team, who is now the No. 1 man for the Anaheim Ducks, is that he is eminently capable of stealing a game. He has done it in the NHL. He nearly did it tonight in Vancouver, first making 44 saves against Team Canada through three regulation periods and a five-minute overtime session. Then he stopped all three Canadian snipers in the shootout -- Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and his Ducks teammate Ryan Getzlaf.
Olympic rules allow for a shooter to repeat once the first three have taken a turn so it was Crosby who got the call again and this time he made no mistake, ripping a shot that seemed to go through Hiller. When Martin Brodeur snuffed the next Swiss shooter, the Canadians were able to eke out a 3-2 win. But they now have five points to six for Team USA, which they face Sunday evening in the next game for both teams.
Brodeur acknowledged after the game that it was a lot more competitive than he or anyone on his team anticipated, but that's what a hot goalie can do for his team.
For anyone who was wondering why the Ducks signed Hiller to a four-year, $16- million contract extension in late January and then traded former No. 1 goalie J.S. Giguere -- who led the Ducks to a Stanley Cup in 2007 -- to Toronto, tonight's performance is exhibit A.
After Canada took a 2-0 lead, the Swiss fought back to tie it at 2-2 and then Hiller worked his magic, especially in the latter part of the third period, first robbing Getzlaf with a sparkling glove save with just over seven minutes to go. Then he made terrific saves on Danny Heatley, Crosby and Patrick Marleau during a power play that came with under three minutes left in regulation.
The overtime session began with a scare for Hiller as Rick Nash made a great move to get around the Swiss defense, barreled in and then collided with Hiller, Nash's legs banging into the goalie's head. He was shaken up but hung in, and it was Nash who crashed into the net with just four seconds to go in overtime, trying desperately to decide things before the shootout.
It made sense that Getzlaf was one of the choices in the shootout. He obviously knows what Hiller's strength are and if he has any weakness at all, it is one that is shared by a lot of goalies who play his style -- on the ice, using their legs and feet to seal off the low shots but leaving the upper part of the net exposed.
On Crosby's first attempt, he tried to cut back against the grain and squeeze it in low, but Hiller anticipated him beautifully, sliding to his right and taking away the bottom of net.
But once Crosby was called again, he relied on that deadly accurate shot that he worked on throughout the off-season, foregoing the tricky down-low stuff and just picking his spot and letting it go.
Coming into this tournament, Crosby was a remarkable six for seven in NHL shootouts. Thanks to him, Canada dodged a bullet and picked up two out of three points.
Which is going to make the big showdown Sunday all that more intriguing. The U.S. is full of confidence, having defeated Switzerland and Norway in regulation. Canada dodged a bullet tonight, escaping with a win in a game that was far more challenging than it anticipated. The pressure to win on its home ice and atone for a disastrous performance in Turin in 2006 becomes more and more immense with each game the Canadians play.
As for the U.S. players? They are loose and the team is relishing its role as the hated underdog of the Games.
It will be fun to see how Canada responds to all this.
Not just the team, but the entire country.
NOTE: I'll have that story on the Kings and Ducks players on Team USA and Team Canada up and running tomorrow.