Team USA finally solves Hiller

Well, he almost pulled it off.


Jonas Hiller was remarkable in goal today for Switzerland's Olympic hockey team, making 42 saves and keeping the outcome of what would eventually be a 2-0 win by Team USA in doubt until the final seconds of the game ticked away. Hiller, now the No. 1 goalie for the Ducks, is of course very familiar to fans in Southern California who have grown accustomed to watching him win games all by himself. And very early in today's game it was very clear that's exactly what he was going to have to do for his team to win.

Somehow, the game was still scoreless until literally the last second of the second period. Up to that point, Hiller had made 32 saves to only eight by Ryan Miller, his counterpart in the USA goal.

That's when Ryan Kesler of Team USA fired a shot from an awkward angle to the side of Hiller. The puck popped up in the air and Hiller flailed at it with his arms and stick as he and the puck fell into the net. But a replay showed that time had expired before the puck completely crossed the line and the game remained scoreless.

Once the third period began, a couple of factors turned the tide for Team USA.

First of all, fatigue. The Swiss team has played a lot of hockey in this tournament, most recently a tough shootout victory Tuesday over Belarus. These guys were gassed.

Secondly, the Americans were tenacious in sticking to their game plan, making the hard plays through the neutral zone and most important of all, winning faceoffs, by a margin of well over 2-to-1, and blocking shots. One of the main reasons why the shots-on-goal statistic was so imbalanced in favor of the Americans was that so many of the Swiss shots simply didn't get through. Everyone on Team USA was flinging themselves in front of pucks, none more enthusiastically and fearlessly than Chris Drury, the forward of the New York Rangers whose selection for this team drew criticism from all corners. Not that he needed to, but Drury has more than redeemed himself with his play and leadership for his team in these Games.

And finally the X factor for the U.S. today was the line of Paul Stastny, Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise, who finally solved Hiller early in the third period, reaching around the goalie and tapping a shot from the point by Brian Rafalski -- do you believe the tournament this guy is having? -- into the net.

As the period ticked down, the Swiss began to take more chances, swarming into the U.S. zone and firing shots toward Miller. If they weren't blocked, he somehow made the save. He ended up with 19 but many were far from routine, which is why this game was very much in doubt until Parise made a great play at his own blue line.

Hiller was pulled from the game with just under two minutes to go in the third period and the Swiss were forechecking aggressively and doing a good job of keeping the puck in the U.S. zone. But with under 15 seconds to go, Parise charged toward a loose puck just inside the blue line, poked it off the boards and then just took off, flying toward the vacant Swiss net and firing in a shot that made it a 2-0 final.

For Miller, it was the first shutout by a U.S. Olympic goalie since Mike Richter notched one in 2002.

For his team, it was a ticket to the Olympics version of the final four -- and a game Friday against the winner of tonight's showdown between Finland, and the Ducks' Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, and the Czech Republic.

But first, there's that other game between Canada and Russia and the much anticipated showdown between two guys named Crosby and Ovechkin.

One game down today, three to go.

It's a great day for hockey, isn't it?