Crosby saves Canada from repeat loss to Swiss

While Martin Brodeur made the four stops that counted, Sidney

Crosby made the save of the day.

Crosby saved Canada’s home-ice Olympics from possible ruination

almost before the long-anticipated hockey tournament had started,

scoring in a shootout to prevent a second incomprehensible Canada

loss to Switzerland in as many Winter Games.

Crosby was left off the much-older 2006 team that lost to the

Swiss 2-0 in Turin, one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history.

Across hockey’s birthland on Thursday, 33 million Canadians were

giving thanks Crosby was on this team following Canada’s

close-escape 3-2 victory.

Even if, much like his team, Crosby needed a second chance.

Denied by Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller on his first

shootout attempt when he failed at a tricky backhand-to-forehand

move, Crosby changed strategy the second time and simply threw a

hard wrist shot at the net. It went it, making him the only one of

the eight shooters – four for each team – to score.

Hiller was brilliant despite allowing early goals to San Jose

Sharks teammates Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, making 44 saves

and keeping a Swiss team whose forwards probably couldn’t make an

NHL roster from being overwhelmed by Canada’s collection of

all-stars.

“I just tried not to get too fancy,” said Crosby, who leads

the NHL with a 75 percent shootout success rate. “The first one, I

tried to make a few moves and he’s got quick feet and he played it

real well.”

Asked why he sent Crosby out again so soon after he was stopped,

coach Mike Babcock said, “We thought he had a look at him once and

he’d get it the second time.”

And he did.

Back in 2006, an 18-year-old Crosby was judged to be too young

and inexperienced for the Canadian team and got no closer to Turin

than his TV set.

“I was home watching, probably like every other Canadian,”

Crosby said.

Despite the Crosby-provided escape act, Canadians must be

wondering how a team with 23 NHL players nearly lost for the second

successive Olympics to a team with only two NHLers. A team that

finished only fifth out of six in its world championship bracket

last spring.

The pressure on Canada to win a gold medal at home has been

described by U.S. general manager Brian Burke as “glacial,

unrelenting.” These Canadians – only seven of whom were on the

2006 team – now know what that pressure feels like.

They’ll feel more of it Sunday against the United States in a

game that will decide which of the two moves into the quarterfinals

as one of the top-seeded teams. Only a gold will do in these games

for Canada, and losing to the U.S. would make that very difficult

to gain.

And the Americans are a lot better than the Swiss, who rallied

from a 2-0 deficit by beating Brodeur twice for goals in the second

period. The better the relentless Swiss played, the more Canada

tightened up.

“Oh, yeah,” Babcock said. “I think there’s no question.

Pressure, if you don’t drink it up, if you don’t relish it and want

it, is a great equalizer.”

Brodeur came back with a scoreless third period and five-minute

overtime, then halted all four Swiss skaters in the shootout,

stopping Martin Pluss after Crosby scored.

Maybe Canada should have noted the ominous date: Feb. 18, the

same as when goalie Martin Gerber – later dubbed the Shroud of

Turin – made 49 saves at the 2006 Olympics to send the Canadians to

one of their worst defeats since the country invented hockey.

This upset would have been bigger. Canada is considered to be

superior in all areas to the aging 2006 team that finished seventh

in Turin, one place behind the Swiss.

“This team is way better than the team we played in Italy,”

Pluss said. “They skate better, they’re younger, they’re fresh and

just the way they play.”

This team also has Crosby, who, at age 21 last spring became the

youngest captain to raise the Stanley Cup when the Pittsburgh

Penguins won Game 7 in Detroit. Eight months later, he’s trying to

add a gold medal.

If Canada hadn’t won it, Canada might have dropped into a

play-in round merely to reach the quarterfinals, and thus would

have had a much more difficult draw.

“In every championship I’ve been involved with, your team has

to go through adversity and that’s what we had here,” Babcock

said. “We were able to survive it.”