Switzerland gave Team USA, the No. 1 seed, all it could handle on Wednesday afternoon, thanks to a solid defensive game plan and the continued brilliance of goalie Jonas Hiller, who has been amazing throughout this tournament. But it was Zach Parise, the most accomplished goal scorer on the American team, who finally figured Hiller out with the Americans' 35th shot of the afternoon, lifting the U.S. to a 2-0 victory in the first of Wednesday's four quarterfinals.
The Americans will play the winner of Wednesday night's matchup between the Czech Republic and Finland.
Defenseman Brian Rafalski started the play with a slapper from the point between a double screen of Jamie Langenbrunner and Parise. Parise just nudged the puck with his stick as it reached the net and send it skittering over Hiller's arm before snuggling just inside the left post for a pressure-releasing first goal with 2:08 gone in the third.
Parise added an empty-netter with 12 seconds remaining, on the last of Team USA's 44 shots. Hiller finished with 42 saves.
Ryan Miller wasn't tested nearly as much but made several good stops among his 19 saves in the first U.S. Olympic shutout since Mike Richter beat Germany 5-0 in the 2002 quarterfinals.
The Americans thought they had a goal at the end of the second period as Ryan Kesler's speculative shot in the dying seconds hit Hiller and bounced in the air. The Swiss goalie tried to bat it away, but instead hit it over his own shoulder and into the net. The Americans celebrated as the horn to end the period blared, but replay ruled that the puck did not cross the goal line in time.
Team USA also had a goal taken away in the third period. Defenseman Ryan Suter thought he had scored when his snap shot found its way through a screen and past Hiller at 4:17 of the third period. But referee Paul Devorski whistled Kesler for high-sticking defenseman Mathias Seger during a battle for position in front of Hiller.
That non-goal came just seconds after the Swiss thought they had tied the game. Switzerland's Sandy Jeanin took his defender wide and then forced Ryan Miller to commit before sliding a shot past the goalie that appeared to have crossed the goal line before bouncing back out. But Devorski immediately signaled no goal and play continued until the no-goal and penalty against Kesler.
Replays clearly showed that the Swiss shot hit the far post and bounced right back out.
Despite all the drama, Wednesday was as much about Hiller as it was about the Americans surviving to play another day.
Entering the game, the Americans feared that Hiller could be an X factor, the one player that could give the Swiss a chance to pull off an upset eerily reminiscent of Belarus beating highly favored Sweden at the quarterfinal hurdle in the 2002 Olympics, an improbable win that was made possible by the performance of the relatively unknown Andrei Mezin.
Hiller, though, is far from unknown. He is the starting goalie for the Anaheim Ducks, having stolen the job from Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who was the starting goalie for the Ducks' Stanley Cup victory in 2007.
In this tournament, he has already frustrated Canada in the preliminary round, forcing the Canadians to a shootout before succumbing. The point that Canada lost in that game cost them any chance at a bye when they were beating by the Americans on the final game of pool play.
But the Americans also knew about Hiller's game-stealing resume. He was brilliant in the first game of pool play as the Americans threw everything at the Swiss but could only manage a 3-1 victory.
This time, in a win-or-go-home scenario, Hiller was at his absolute best.
In the first period he stopped all 18 shots, including four from Langenbrunner and four from Phil Kessel. The Swiss managed just four shots in the first 20 minutes. Hiller stopped 14 more in the second, while his teammates managed just four more against Hiller.
Hiller also stopped the first three shots of the third period before the Americans found the slimmest of openings to finally breach his air-tight defense of the Swiss goal.GAME SUMMARY
SUI 0 0 0 - 0
USA 0 0 2 - 2First Period
Penalties - R. Callahan USA (hooking) 6:25Second Period
Penalties - 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 net
Penalties - P. Furrer SUI (tripping) 1:56, R. Kesler USA (high-sticking) 4:07SHOTS ON GOAL
USA 18 14 12 - 44
SUI 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.