Four years ago to the day—February 18, 2006—the Swiss pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Olympic hockey history, knocking off the mighty Canadians with a 2-0 shutout at the 2006 Torino Games.
Martin Gerber, the Swiss starting goaltender at the time, played the game of his life with a 49-save effort in round robin play, becoming a national hero after blanking a once untouchable hockey nation.
Fittingly, Thursday night marked another brilliant goaltending performance by Jonas Hiller, and Switzerland played the underdog role to perfection, almost pulling it off again against the host country, Canada, which squeaked out a 3-2 shootout victory.
For any of the less-talented countries, goaltending spectacles like Hiller's are the only thing keeping medal hopes alive—and the Anaheim Ducks' starter did his best to keep Switzerland in the tournament conversation, holding the fort until his woke up in the second period and started to challenge Canada offensively.
Canada created a lot of scoring chances on the night—with seven power-play opportunities—but could not beat a red-hot Hiller who was nearly unbeatable after the home side took a 2-0 lead early in the second period. Even in the shootout, in which Canada prevailed with a Sidney Crosby goal to save face, he stopped the first three shooters before the Penguins superstar ended the Cinderella story.
For the Canadians, who failed to score a single goal on 12 power plays against the Swiss in 2006, Thursday night wrote a similar story, as they went a mere 1-for-7 with the man advantage—largely because of Hiller's prowess between the pipes.
But his best save came on two consecutive scoring chances by his Duck teammates, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, who were both robbed of a game-winning goal with a pair of dazzling saves seconds apart to keep the game tied 2-2 with seven minutes to play. It was those timely saves throughout that ultimately helped Switzerland earn at least a point in Group A standings.
Hiller was a brick wall at a time when the Swiss were facing a potentially deflating two-goal deficit and could ill-afford to allow another goal, opening the door for his team to score twice to force the extra time.
More than Hiller's stellar play in net, the rest of the team played a solid game at both ends against the powerhouse Canadian squad—besting the 2006 shutout win, according to Swiss head coach Ralph Krueger, who thought his team played with a lot of energy and created more scoring chances than Torino.
Krueger, a Winnipeg native who coaches in Switzerland, was impressed with the tremendous character the team showed in battling back. Even after falling behind by two goals, the Swiss kept their composure and stayed patient, waiting for opportunities and not straying away from their game plan, which was a real key in their comeback effort.
Ivo Ruthemann's second-period goal, beating Martin Brodeur over the glove hand on a rising slap shot to close the gap to 2-1, ignited the Swiss bench and was a big turning point in the game.
Canada's head coach Mike Babcock said following the shootout victory that Switzerland's first goal seemed to turn the tide as his guys tightened up, especially with the added pressure of playing in front of 18,000-plus crazed Canadian fans.
Crosby saved the day on his second shootout opportunity, beating Hiller glove-side to push Canada's record to 2-0, but the story was all about the Swiss goaltender who played arguably the best game of his career to earn his country a much-needed point for the overtime defeat.
They may have fallen short of pulling off another "Miracle on Ice," but Hiller's heroic effort could set up Switzerland nicely for the qualification playoff round. If the Swiss can follow this up with another inspired performance against Norway (0-2) on Saturday, the underdog country will put itself in a strong position to advance to the all-important quarter-final stage with Hiller, its savior in net.