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VANCOUVER -- Next up, Team USA -- again.
Switzerland advanced to meet the top-seeded Americans by yanking out a stay-alive 3-2 shootout win over Belarus on Tuesday in the first of four qualifying-round games.
"In the end the win is what counts for us," said Switzerland's Julien Sprunger, who tallied his second goal of the Olympic tournament when he tied the game at 1-1 with a mid-air stick move to beat Belarus goalie Andrei Mezin. "But we can't play like that against the USA Wednesday … we have to play better defensively and be much more physical. But anything can happen. We saw that against Canada."
The Swiss, of course, took the host country into the fourth round of a shootout. That ought to be enough fodder for any overnight American anxiousness, though it will be no match for the Canadian fans who, if they worried over Germany, the fretting for meeting Russia in Wednesday's starred quarterfinal is pretty much limitless.
This time around in the shootout, Romano Lemm was one of two successful Swiss shooters. He scored in the second round against Mezin, going top shelf. Lemm's goal turned out to be the game-clincher when Swiss and Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller stood his crease ground against Belarus' third shooter, Sergei Kostitsyn of the Montreal Canadiens.
"Romano made the same move against Marty Brodeur [in the close loss to Team Canada] and just missed it," said a happy but exhausted Swiss captain Mark Streit, the New York Islanders All-Star who logged more than 30 minutes of ice time. Only two other Swiss skaters had more than 20.
The victory earned the Swiss a second crack at the Americans, who beat them 3-1 in the opening game of the tournament a week ago. Team USA went on to beat Norway and Canada to win Group A and finish first in the round-robin portion of the tournament.
The second coming of the Swiss was made possible by big saves by Hiller down the stretch of the third period and overtime, plus a penalty-kill team (notably Streit and forwards Andres Ambuhl and Thomas Deruns) that stifled four of five power plays -- including one in overtime when Roman Wick was called for tripping.
"Those power plays were our chance to put them away," said Belarus captain Ruslan Salei, who now goes back to work for the NHL's Colorado Avalanche. "Basically, that was the game for us."
The Canada Hockey Place crowd clearly nominated Belarus for underdog status in the third period, breaking into chants of "BEL-ah-ROOS" at regular intervals.
The teams entered the final 20 minutes tied at 2-2. Mezin, who has played his share of big international games, was getting more work than Hiller in the Swiss net. Switzerland took 26 shots in the first two periods, compared to only 11 for Belarus.
The shots in the third period were much more even, testing both goaltenders. Hiller made about three saves that could have been characterized as better would-be goals when sized up against the two he surrendered. He muffed a dribbling puck on the first Belarus goal, scored in the first minute.
Belarus' second goal, at 15:42 of the second period, developed when Hiller couldn't cleanly handle a deflected point shot by forward Aleksei Ugarov on the power play, leaving the puck for a wide-open Konstantin Zakharov to slam into the net.
Mezin, you will remember if your Olympic memory is sharp, pulled off a stunning elimination upset of Team Sweden at the 2002 Winter Game despite facing 50 shots from Nick Lidstrom and other NHL stars. And if your New York Rangers acumen is on scent today, you know Mezin stopped 40 of 44 to barely lose to the NHL club, 4-3, in the first-ever Victoria Cup in Europe in 2008.
Streit played another strong game, totaling 30:32 of ice time -- more than five minutes longer on ice than any teammate. He assisted on Switzerland's second goal -- but more important disrupted most rushes by Aleksei Kalyuzhny and Kostitsyn and Konstantin Koltsov. One of his best plays came with just under 12 minutes left, knocking down an open Belarus forward, Sergei Demagin, about six feet in front of Hiller.
The game did not start out well for Hiller and his Swiss teammates. With just 59 seconds gone, Kalyuzhny slipped behind defenseman Severin Blindenbacher to receive a 90-foot pass from teammate Viktor Kostiuchenok. But the pass ricocheted off Kalyuzhny 's blade for a seemingly harmless redirect on goal.
However, Hiller couldn't handle the knuckling puck. Kalyuzhny kept skating and poked the loose puck between the Anaheim goalie's leg pads. There was a video review because the puck sort of meandered under Hiller and past the goal line, but it was ruled as a good goal.
After Sprunger's man-advantage goal later in the first tied it, the power play helped the Swiss take the lead 7:07 into the second period. Streit's left-point blast hit a body in front and caromed right to Hnat Domenichelli for an easy tap-in at Mezin's left post.
Zakharov's goal tied it, but Hiller took his Swiss team to the quarterfinals with a stellar third period, overtime and shootout.
"Hiller made huge stops and especially came through when we took that penalty [in overtime]," said Streit, starting to crack a smile. "He's got to feel good. He's big and he can move. We need him to play his best Wednesday, then maybe we get our own miracle."