Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — They gave their best, but it wasn't good enough to beat goaltender Jonas Hiller for the first 35 shots and 42 minutes of their quarterfinal playoff game against Switzerland on Wednesday. So members of the U.S. Olympic hockey team put aside their annoyance and dug into a well of determination.
"You're kind of mentally prepared for that type of game and when you're playing a goalie that good we're expecting that," Zach Parise said of Hiller, the Ducks' No. 1 goaltender and backbone of a Swiss team that had to win a qualifying-round shootout Tuesday to get this far.
"But we kept reaching on the bench to not get frustrated, to not allow ourselves to fall asleep and to keep playing the way we were playing and hopefully one was going to go in for us."
Parise made it go in, deflecting a shot by Brian Rafalski past Hiller during a power play 2:08 into the third period of a 42-save performance that led the hockey-savvy fans at Canada Hockey Place to temporarily adopt the valiant and acrobatic Hiller as a native son.
Parise, the New Jersey Devils forward, added an empty-net goal with 11.2 seconds remaining to clinch a 2-0 victory and launch the U.S. into Friday's semifinals against Finland, which defeated the Czech Republic by the same score.
"It was a great battle. It was a character win for us," said Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason, who led the way for the U.S. with probably a half-dozen blocked shots. "I think from the goalie on out we came to play. We knew they were going to be a tough team.
"We had to match that intensity and I think we did that."
U.S. goalie Ryan Miller stopped 19 shots with a calmness that his teammates picked up on and the Swiss couldn't shake even though they challenged at times and mustered some good rushes. "He was like a brick wall back there," Swiss defenseman and Ducks prospect Luca Sbisa said of Miller.
Sbisa showed he knows something about standing tall and solid too. His left ring finger was fractured in two places and split open when he blocked a shot in the first period, but he refused more than cursory treatment and returned in the second period.
"I don't want to be when I'm older and sitting in my chair thinking I should have played that game," Sbisa said. "It's something I will remember for the rest of my life."
It was that kind of game.
The U.S. thought it had a goal late in the second period, when a shot by Ryan Kesler struck Hiller's shoulder and rolled into the net, but replays showed time expired before the puck fully crossed the line.
After Parise scored his first goal of the tournament, Switzerland thought it had the equalizer from Sandy Jeannin. However, replays showed the puck hit the post and didn't cross the goal line.
An apparent U.S. goal a few seconds later was waved off on a high-sticking call against Kesler, but the Americans didn't lose focus when the tension ratcheted up.
"During times that were tight it was a unifying moment for us," forward Bobby Ryan said. "The tempo never changed. We were in their zone most of the time. We knew Jonas was able to steal a game."
They didn't let him, a big step forward for a young and mostly untested team that is facing bigger tests every day.