What a relief it must be for everyone in the Great White North to know there will be no need for mourning in the morning.
A little deep breathing and everyone should be just fine. That countrywide catastrophe thing? No biggie. Team Canada avoided creating it by escaping with a 3-2 shootout win over Switzerland. And Sidney Crosby played the hero too, so all is good. At least until everyone realizes this was really a stark reminder that no matter how talented Canada may be, its gold medal chances remain tenuous.
Then again, the Canadian players probably had a pretty good idea because they ran into a very hot Martin Gerber in Switzerland’s net in Torino and were eliminated from the 2006 medal chase. And if they didn’t, Jonas Hiller made them understand.
Taking a break from his regular gig in Anaheim, Hiller showed why goaltending is the great equalizer in what is as a result, a wide open tournament. Most of the teams in these Olympics have big time goalies, but none of them is likely to turn in a better performance than Hiller did. The Ducks goalie was spectacular as he gave the feisty if overmatched Swiss team a chance to pull off the first major upset of the Games by stopping 44 shots, 18 of them in the third period, and frustrating Canada on six of seven man advantages.
“If it wasn’t for their goalie, the game would have been over a long time ago,” said Canadian netminder Martin Brodeur told a television interviewer soon after stopping the four Swiss shootout shooters he faced.
Brodeur had a pretty good night himself, but for a while it didn’t seem to matter against a Swiss team that has become a thorn in Canada’s side internationally in the last few years. The Canadians had that in mind coming into the game and started fast, taking an early lead when Dany Heatley scored for the third time in the tournament, and then doubling it when his San Jose Sharks linemate Patrick Marleau scored in the second period.
But then Hiller went to work. He was helped in several instances by Team Canada players getting a little too fancy with their plays, but he was rock solid and possibly in the Canadian players heads a bit after Switzerland went into the final period tied at 2.
“At times we didn’t execute as well as we wanted to,” Crosby said. “Maybe we’re a little guilty of passing up some shots. We could have made it more than 2-0, and that hurt us as game went on.”
Quite a bit actually as Canada’s frustration level seemed to rise in direct proportion to the possibility of a major disaster taking place on home ice.
“They pushed us to the limit, but we came through,” Brodeur said. “Adversity is a big thing. As a team with all these superstars, sometimes you don’t get to face it. We faced it early in the tournament and we responded well.”
Exhale everyone. But don't get too comfortable.