As an audition for the pivotal game Sunday against the United States, not to mention the medal round games that will follow, Martin Brodeur
's performance wasn't going all that well. Not until everything else was stripped away and it was just him against a succession of Swiss shooters.
As a signature game for the breakout season that has seen him unseat a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender in Anaheim, Jonas Hiller
couldn't have asked for more. Except, that is, for just one more save against Sidney Crosby
Brodeur and Hiller dueled at 178 feet for 65 minutes and then untimed, memorable moments more Thursday afternoon inside the raucous Canada Hockey Place and before the eyes of the hockey world. Hiller popped more eyes -- stopping 44 shots through 65 minutes and three more in the shootout -- having the far more demanding and far more spectacular game. But in the end, as he has done more often than any goaltender in NHL history, Brodeur won.
And because he did -- because of the way he did -- Brodeur was given the designation he has craved since he left Torino four years ago without an Olympic medal: he will start Sunday against the United States with the intention that he carry Canada through the medal round.
Stopping all four shots he faced in the shootout, while Hiller was being beaten only by Crosby – on a second try, no less – Brodeur lifted Canada to a spine-tingling 3-2 victory that kept it somewhat on track for Sunday's showdown with Team USA for Group A supremacy.
"I really liked it," Canada coach Mike Babcock said of Brodeur's authoritative performance throughout the pressurized third period, overtime and shootout. "I think, any time you're in big situations, the guys in our room have done a ton of winning, and you have to embrace those pressure situations and respond. And I thought Marty did a great job tonight.
"That's great leadership and that's what we all have to do. We have to drink up the situation and I thought his example was fantastic and he will start against the U.S."
"I've seen it many, many times," Canadian captain Scott Niedermayer
said of his Anaheim Ducks
teammate Hiller. "He's obviously a great goalie. But I think Marty was probably just as good. Both goalies played extremely well.
"And then, Marty getting us that extra point could be big."
The alternative could have shaken this hockey-mad nation to its athletic foundation, at least until a chance at quick redemption arrived wit the drop of the puck vs. Team USA on Sunday. But Brodeur didn't let it get to that.
"Marty stoned four guys, so he was the one who made the big saves that let us win this," said Crosby, who was stopped by Hiller on the first Canadian shootout attempt, but then got to go again in Round 4, as per IIHF rules. "If Marty doesn't make those saves, I don't get a second crack. I was happy to get a second crack."
Brodeur was similarly pleased to get a second chance against Switzerland. Four years ago, Brodeur could not outduel Martin Gerber
in a stunning Swiss victory over Canada in the round-robin phase of the 2006 Olympic tournament. But he did not bargain for another death-struggle.
Asked if he had fun or battled nerves during the game, Brodeur smiled and said: "I think when you're expected to win, it becomes a little more nervous. It was definitely difficult a little bit. But it was a great challenge. And we rose to the occasion, I guess."
The occasion rose to Brodeur because Hiller stood ridiculously tall at the other end and because, with each passing minute that they weren't blown out by the hulking, homestanding Canadians, the rest of the Swiss team gained confidence.
Though they were outshot in each period -- badly in the first (16-8) and third (18-3) -- the Swiss neither backed off nor backed down. They just kept coming, forcing Brodeur to make plenty of sparkling saves among his 21.
The two goals he allowed were no-faulters – a slap shot off the inside of the far post by Ivo Ruthemann on a two-on-one 8:59 into the second period and a deflection off the skate of Canadian forward Patrick Marleau
with 10 seconds left in the second. Those erased what was a 2-0 Canadian lead and heaped at least as much mental pressure on Brodeur as the amount of offensive pressure Canada was exerting on Hiller.
"I've seen it many, many times. [Hiller's] obviously a great goalie. But I think Marty was probably just as good. Both goalies played extremely well. And then, Marty getting us that extra point could be big." -- Scott Niedermayer
The most spectacular, if not the best of Hiller's 44 saves was off another fellow Anaheim Duck, Ryan Getzlaf
. At the end of a wild, end-to-end sequence that saw Canada thwart a Swiss four-on-two, Getzlaf skated into a 25-foot howitzer. Hiller slashed it out of the air with his catching glove as Canada Hockey Place oohed.
"Yes, I knew I had to come up big going against all NHL guys," a crestfallen Hiller said. "So yes, I had to play well. But I think you could see a big improvement from the U.S. game. That's what we wanted to do and I don't think that was a stolen point. I think we played quite well and won the point.
"I could have stopped one more shootout shot or one more puck during regulation and we would have won. It's a tough one to lose. I sure wish we would have won. I think it will take some time to realize what we did out there. I think it was a great game from everyone on our team and you have to do that when you face NHL guys."
The man many consider the best of all the NHL guys, Crosby, came at Hiller twice in the shootout. Hiller stopped him the first time. But when Crosby got his "second crack," he found a tiny space over Hiller's left pad and under his catching glove.
"I was happy with the first save," Hiller said. "He got me on the second one. I'm a little sad now. I wish I would have stopped it. He's a good player. I realize that."
Hiller's admirers after the game formed a long line. At its head was the winningest NHL goaltender of all time.
"Their goalie was spectacular, that's the bottom line," Martin Brodeur
said. "The game would have been over a lot earlier if it wasn't for him."