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VANCOUVER -- The Canadians felt the pressure, that incredible heat. The weight of an entire country is on the host team to win gold here at the Winter Olympics, and it got really heavy Thursday night inside Canada Hockey Place.
Canada survived, but barely. Now the question is: Are the Canadians better off for it?
Canada needed a shootout before finally -- and perhaps some would say luckily -- dispatching Switzerland 3-2 in their second game of play in Pool A. Sidney Crosby scored the lone goal in the skills competition and Martin Brodeur stopped all four Swiss shooters he faced to earn the win -- and the start in Sunday's huge match against Team USA.
Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller had an absolutely brilliant night in stopping 44 of 46 shots, including all 18 he faced in a thrilling third period. Switzerland came back from a 2-0 deficit with a pair of second-period goals, including the equalizer with 10 seconds left.
"Oh yeah," Canada coach Mike Babcock said when asked if his team finally felt the pressure that has been talked about for years. "I think there is no question. Pressure, if you don't drink it up, if you don't want it and if you don't relish it, then it's the great equalizer. We have to control our emotions. We have to be composed and execute. I think we'll be a lot better because of what we went through here today."
That sentiment was echoed by several Canadian players, some of whom played in that game in Torino exactly four years ago in Torino when Switzerland shocked the hockey world by beating Canada, 2-0, behind Martin Gerber's perfect night against 42 shots.
"They played tough, just like they did in '06," Brodeur said.
Canada couldn't come back from that loss four years ago, and it wound up finishing a disappointing seventh in Torino.
"You're always going to have a bump in the road," Canada captain Scott Niedermayer told NHL.com. "I have never gone through any tournament or any sort of playoff series without having a bump in the road. It's how you respond. This is going to be one of those times."
Canada saw how the Swiss played hard, aggressive, fast and fearless against Team USA in a 3-1 loss Tuesday and expected the face the same kind of effort. The Canadians, though, weren't pleased with how they responded, but that's part of growing as a team and, as Babcock said, realizing how difficult it is going to be to win that gold medal.
"In order to win at this level of competition, you have to get better every day and you have to continue to take steps," Babcock said. "I think this is a huge step for our team to understand how hard it is going to be and how well we have to play.
"I thought we got away from our game," he added. "We stopped shooting the puck. We stopped being physical. We were overpassing it. In the end it got the better of us."
Canada got goals from San Jose linemates Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau to take a 2-0 lead 35 seconds into the second period, but the game turned just over eight minutes later when a key mistake by Canada's youngest player, 20-year-old defenseman Drew Doughty, led to Switzerland's first goal.
Doughty got hemmed in the defensive zone, and although he may have been held, it created a 2-on-1 the other way. Ivo Ruthemann chose to shoot from the left circle and his shot rang off the right post, cut across the goalmouth and tucked inside the left post.
The Swiss kept coming after Ruthemann's goal and tied it with only 10 seconds left before the second intermission. Patrick von Gunten's shot from the left circle redirected into the net off of Marleau's left skate and past Brodeur, tying the game at 2-2.
"I thought we tightened up," Babcock said. "They got faster and we didn't execute."
Canada controlled most of the third period and outshot the Swiss 18-3, but Hiller was brilliant. His two best saves came on consecutive shots by his own teammates in Anaheim, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, with about 7:30 left in regulation.
First, he stoned Perry with his stick near the left post and then he committed highway robbery on Getzlaf with a remarkable glove save on a shot from the lower right circle. Hiller also preserved the tie with 4:23 to play when he stoned Heatley from in tight.
"I'm quite happy with my performance," Hiller told NHL.com, "and I think it was one of the best games I have ever seen from the Swiss National Team."
The goalie on the other end was certainly impressed.
"Their goalie was spectacular. That's the bottom line," Brodeur said. "The game would have been over a lot earlier if it wasn't for him."
Babcock used Crosby first in the shootout, followed by Jonathan Toews and Ryan Getzlaf. He said he looked at their shootout percentages in NHL play this season and Crosby's 75 percent (6-for-8) was the best on the team while Toews 58.3-percent (7-of-12) was second and Getzlaf's 42.9 percent (3-of-7) was third among guys that normally go.
Drew Doughty is 1-for-2, but he wasn't an option for Babcock. Rick Nash would have been fourth, but Babcock played a hunch by going back to Crosby.
Hiller stopped all three on their first attempts, but on Crosby's second attempt, instead of deking and going low like he did the first time, he shot it from between the hash marks and beat Hiller.
"We stood on the bench and said, 'Do we go to Nash because he's fourth or do we go to the guy who scores every time?'" Babcock said. "We just thought he had a look at him once and he would get it the second time."
Brodeur ended the game after Crosby scored by making a glove save on Martin Pluss.
The red-clad crowd inside the building roared while an entire nation took a deep breath.
Crisis averted, but the heat is most definitely on now. The Canadians can feel it.
Sunday's game against Team USA should be quite interesting -- because they got only two points for the shootout win, the Canadians technically trail the Americans in the standings.
"When you're expected to win, it becomes a little more nervous," Brodeur said. "It was definitely difficult, but it was a great challenge. And, we rose to the occasion, I guess."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org
SCORING SUI 0 2 0 0 0 - 2 CAN 1 1 0 0 1 - 3
1. CAN, Heatley (Marleau, Toews) 9:21
Penalties - Bench, SUI (too many players - served by J Sprunger) 1:11, Seger SUI (holding) 6:43, Y. Weber SUI (hooking) 13:39.
2. CAN, Marleau (Heatley, S. Weber) :35 (PPG)
3. SUI, Ruthemann (Pluss) 8:59
4. SUI, von Gunten (Monnet, Furrer) 19:50
Penalties - Y. Weber SUI (hooking) :27, Sannitz SUI (shooting puck over glass) :42, Morrow CAN (holding) 9:19, Sannitz SUI (interference) 15:52.
Penalties - Paterlini SUI (hooking) 17:09
Penalties - No penalties
Game Winning Shots
1. SUI, Domenichelli - save
1. CAN, Crosby - save
2. SUI, Lemm - save
2. CAN, Toews - save
3. SUI, Wick - save
3. CAN, Getzlaf - save