The young, upstart Americans passed a pop quiz thrown at them Wednesday by an upset-minded Switzerland team in the first of the day's quarterfinals at Canada Hockey Place.
The Americans survived a mind-blowing litany of clutch saves by Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller, the infuriating patience of a disciplined team that denies time and space in the neutral zone and a couple of confidence-shaking calls to earn a 2-0 victory that sends Team USA into the medal round.
New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise scored both goals -- the second into an empty net -- and now Team USA will play Finland in Friday's semifinal round here at CHP. The Finns blanked the Czech Republic by the same score, 2-0, later on Wednesday.
"We're really proud of them of them for not losing their cool or letting the expectations of beating the Swiss to get in the way of the plan," American coach Ron Wilson said. "We stayed fairly disciplined the whole game and we needed that."
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The longer the Swiss went with a chance in this game, the more the pressure grew on an American team populated with youngsters who don't have a ton of big-game experience.
So when the second period ended 0-0 and Hiller was the proud owner of 32 saves on a day when he would stop 42 of 43 shots, a recipe for disaster was in the planning stages -- especially after Ryan Kesler had an apparent goal in the last split-second of the second period negated by video replay to keep the game tied.
"Guys started squeezing their sticks after the first 35 shots get stopped," American forward David Backes told NHL.com "So it was a good testament for the guys to keep going; keep with the program. Our longevity and stick-to-itness paid off in the end."
Parise might define the American grit better than any player on this team. Despite being a pure goal scorer, Parise plays in all three ends and goes to the dirty areas of the ice. He was in one of those dirty areas -- in front of Hiller with a defenseman trying to move him -- when he finally broke the stalemate and let the American team breathe.
Parise got just the tip of his stick on a slap shot from defenseman Brian Rafalski and sent it cartwheeling over the glove of Hiller before nestling just inside the far post -- despite the best scrambling efforts of both Hiller and his defense to clear the puck off the line.
"A great performance from Zach Parise today," Wilson said. "I thought he was our best player, and in games like this your best players rise to the occasion and you saw that today."
With that one flash of world-class hand-eye coordination combined with sheer determination, the Americans suddenly knew that they were in control of their own destiny and no longer at the mercy of a goalie intent upon upsetting the Olympic apple cart.
"It was just patience paying off," forward Bobby Ryan said. "They're trying to get teams frustrated and out of their comfort zone and feast on it in transition or a turnover. Plus, Jonas played really well in net. So we just tried to keep going forward and get an ugly one and that's what happened."
Ugly or pretty, the Americans were happy to have it after their first 34 attempts top beat Hiller were thwarted.
"Hillsy did an amazing job," Swiss defenseman Luca Sbisa said. "Without him, we wouldn't be this far in the tournament. He made unbelievable saves. We are so proud of him."
While the game was taut throughout, it was the closing seconds of the second period and the opening five minutes of the third that told the eventual story.
The game-changing sequence started when Kesler appeared to have scored a goal in the last second of the period when his bad-angle shot was bobbled by Hiller before the goalie batted it over his own shoulder and into the net. But on this day, Hiller was saved by the horn -- time expired, according to replays, before the puck actually crossed the goal line.
Then Parise delivered his game-changing goal at 2:08 of the third period. But the Swiss were not yet done.
In fact, they came as hard as they did all night, pressing for the equalizer to put the Americans under pressure again. Switzerland thought it had that equalizer when Sandy Jeanin took his defender wide and then forced goalie Ryan Miller
to commit before sliding a shot past the goalie that appeared to have crossed the goal line before bouncing back out.
"I thought it was in on the bench," Wilson said, "because there was no sound.
Instead, play continued and the Americans marched down the other end to score on a snap shot by Ryan Suter. That goal, though, was waved off by a high-sticking penalty by Kesler in front of the net.
As Kesler was sent to the penalty box, the referees reviewed the play at the American end, determining the puck had hit the far post but had never fully crossed the goal line.
"Luck was not on our side on that shift," Sbisa said.
Miller wound up with 19 saves in the first U.S. Olympic shutout since Mike Richter blanked the Germans 5-0 in the 2002 quarterfinals.
When Parise was able to score his empty-net goal to alleviate Switzerland's last gasp, the Americans were adjudged to have past their most difficult test of the tournament to date.
"We would have needed a miracle to win today," Swiss coach Ralph Krueger said. "The Americans, in the end, were the better team."GAME SUMMARYSCORINGSUI
0 0 0 - 0USA
0 0 2 - 2First Period
- R. Callahan USA (hooking) 6:25Second Period
- R. Malone USA (roughing) 2:41, R. Sannitz SUI (interference) 6:04, H. Domenichelli SUI (tripping) 11:19, H. Domenichelli SUI (hooking) 13:36Third Period
1. USA, Z. Parise (B. Rafalski, P. Stastny) 2:08 PPG
2. USA, Z. Parise (unassisted) 19:48 empty netPenalties
- P. Furrer SUI (tripping) 1:56, R. Kesler USA (high-sticking) 4:07SHOTS ON GOALUSA
18 14 12 - 44SUI
4 4 11 - 19Goaltenders
(goals-shots against) - USA: Miller (W, 0-18); SUI: Hiller (L, 1-43).Power plays
(goals-chances) - USA: 1-4; SUI: 0-3.