Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Zach's deuce leads USA into Medal Round

The Zach Attack finally struck. All tournament, Devil sniper Zach Parise had come close. But when it mattered most, he delivered scoring twice in the third period to break a scoreless tie- leading Team USA past Swiss in the first Olympic quarter into the medal round. His nifty power play deflection of a Brian Rafalski shot held up in a wacky third that had some close calls before the Minnesota kid sealed it with an empty netter late.

Despite a 33-8 shot edge that included Ryan Kesler's turnaround which Jonas Hiller bobbled into his own net with the buzzer just beating the puck in, the No.1 seeded Americans were still knotted with pesky Switzerland, who played as expected. Solid skating, tenacious checking and relying on the Anaheim No.1 goalie to give them a chance at the upset. Not surprisingly, Hiller was sharper than yesterday's 3-2 shootout squeaker that ousted Belarus. Facing a US barrage, he stopped almost everything including an early Parise opportunity to keep it scoreless. The hot goalie also got some help from the crossbar on a wicked curl and drag by Phil Kessel that drew iron. He finished with 42 saves including 18 in a busy first.

Hiller's superb goaltending and his teammates' fine attention to detail, blanketing early American power plays that overpassed, allowed a pro-Swiss Hockey Canada Place crowd to think upset. But over on the other end probably bored to death, Ryan Miller was unflappable en route to the 19 save shutout, becoming the first Team USA netminder to record one since the Rangers' Mike Richter in the Olympics eight years ago in Salt Lake. That team went all the way to the gold medal game before falling to Canada. They'll get the winner between tonight's third game between Czech and Finland at 10 ET. Meanwhile, the main event gets going in a little while when gold medal favorites Russia and Canada battle at the bottom of the hour just to qualify for the medal stage. Incredible.

Ron Wilson's new top line of Parise, Paul Stastny and captain Jamie Langenbrunner generated plenty of chances but couldn't get one past Hiller. Bobby Ryan- who also was brilliant- had a couple of tremendous rushes but was stoned. Pesky play from Chris Drury, Dustin Brown and David Backes during one strong shift was snuffed out. Drury along with Ranger 'mate Ryan Callahan again were superb in a checking role, doing their usual diligent work on important penalty kills with the duo registering at least eight of the 23 or 24 blocked shots. Blueliners Tim Gleason and Erik Johnson also were instrumental with the Cane getting in the path of a one-timer while the younger Blue made a saving stickcheck breaking up a three-on-one late in the second which may have prevented the first goal.

Hometown Canuck Kesler was also effective in all facets, nearly tallying at the second's dramatic conclusion. But his turnaround prayer that Hiller bobbled into his own net didn't cross the line in time, which the review confirmed. The Swiss were literally Saved By The Bell. Go figure that a guy named Zach would then do them in in a hectic third that saw another American goal wiped out. After Parise somehow got his stick out to redirect Rafalski's shot for a PPG early in period three, a wild sequence took place with Switzerland coming oh so close to tying it. Off a nice set up, Sandy Jeanin went around a sprawling Miller and hit the right post. Team USA came the other way and appeared to score when Ryan Suter's left point blast beat Hiller. However, an involved Kesler high sticked a Swiss' helmet off negating it.

Despite the bad break, the focused Americans dug in killing off the power play. They would get tested all period but the defense was stellar and the last line of defense wasn't about to allow anything. When he was needed, he did the job stifling Julien Sprunger.

Desperate to tie it, the Swiss pulled Hiller for an extra attacker. A pass for an open Roman Wick missed connection in the slot. Eventually, Team USA worked the puck around to Parise, who then used his guile to sneak past a Swiss defender and deposit the insurance marker with 12 ticks left. He got congrats from who else but Langenbrunner. Switzerland had nothing to be ashamed of putting out another yeoman effort in an attempt at a monumental upset. They just fell a little short.

Canada-Russia faces off at 7:30 on CNBC followed by Czech Republic-Finland at 10 with Henrik Lundqvist and defending gold medalists Sweden taking on Zdeno Chara and Slovakia at midnight.

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