Mike Richter isn't at all surprised with the caliber of goaltending on display at the 2010 Winter Olympics. In fact, he expected it.
Richter, one of the most decorated goaltenders to ever play for Team USA, backstopped the Americans to a silver medal in 2002 in Salt Lake City. He lost out to NHL record-setter Martin Brodeur and Team Canada that year in the gold-medal game.
Richter sees several goalkeepers more than capable of leading their teams to gold in Vancouver, particular after witnessing the scintillating performances of Switzerland's Jonas Hiller in a shootout loss to Canada and Slovakia's Jaroslav Halak in a shootout victory over Russia Thursday at Canada Hockey Place.
Hiller made 16 saves in the first period, 18 in the third and 44 for the game before Sidney Crosby's shootout goal won it. Halak stopped all 13 shots in the third and 36 for the game en route to a seven-round shootout stunner over the favored Russians.
"All bets are off in the Olympics because the goaltending is that good," Richter told NHL Live! Friday. "You're in goal because you know that you can be that man for that moment. If the Swiss, right now, can come so close to beating Canada, on Canada's home soil … that's a really big deal.
"These guys know this could be a career event for them," Richter continued. "Canada has the pressure being at home, that's legitimate, but Sidney Crosby is always under pressure. All these guys are winners and have been through these situations but they're picked for that reason. They're going to perform really well and I don't see any team falling over backwards. Each game, the level of goaltending in this tournament has been beyond belief."
Richter also had high praise for U.S. goalie Ryan Miller.
"I really like Ryan Miller in net and in a single-game elimination, anything can happen," he said. "Then you look at the Finns, for instance. Their one (Miikka Kiprusoff), two (Niklas Backstrom) and three (Antero Niittymaki) goalies are all good; you'd have a hard time scoring on any of them in any given game."
The fact no Olympic game in the preliminary round this year will end in a tie for the first time in history has also aroused Richter's curiosity.
"How do you not want to have a Marty Brodeur in net in that situation -- the guy is great," Richter said. "But (Jonas) Hiller was also really tough (on Thursday). When you look down the Canadian bench, I was trying to guess who I'd pick to shoot in the shootout. Just close your eyes and throw a dart -- pick anyone. And then the way Crosby was stopped on his initial attempt only to come back and score without ever blinking an eye was amazing."
Richter feels there's more pressure on the shooter in those situations.
"It's fun to be a goalie in that position," he said. "You can see Marty was ready and tuned in. There's a lot of pressure on the shooter -- it's not a breakaway, it's a penalty shot. I know it's coming as a goalie and you know you have it as a shooter. It's to my advantage, relative to a game because it isn't like a breakaway. The best I faced on breakaways was (Mario) Lemieux because while it didn't look like he was going fast, before you knew it, he was right on top of you."
Brodeur denied all four Swiss shooters during the shootout to give Team Canada the triumph.
"In the shootout, most goalies know players' tendencies," Richter said. "It's hard on those forwards."
Brodeur is the leader in career NHL shootout victories (34-16) -- topping Sweden's Henrik Lundqvist (29-20) and USA's Ryan Miller (28-19). So when a known goal-scorer is faced with the daunting task of maneuvering one-on-one against Brodeur, the odds are slim.
"Marty's been around for 100 years, so he knows everyone in the League," Richter quipped. "I think you have to play the shooter honest and that's what Marty does best."
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