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Parise lifts U.S. past Switzerland and into hockey semifinals

Zach Parise scores twice in the third period, and the top-seeded U.S. men's hockey team reaches the Olympic semifinals with a tense 2-0 victory over Switzerland.

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By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Only one goal dribbled past Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller on Wednesday at Canada Hockey Place, but for the United States, one goal was enough.

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The Americans took a 2-0 quarterfinal victory over Switzerland on two third-period goals -- one an empty-netter -- by Zach Parise. They will play Finland on Friday in the semifinals.

The Swiss had seemed content to play a stifling zone defense in front of the stellar Hiller, the Anaheim Ducks goalie who turned away 41 shots with stick saves and glove saves. But after a tripping penalty early in the final period put the Americans on the power play, Parise's shot bounced up over the goalie's right shoulder, dropped to the goalmouth beside him and dribbled across the line with 17 minutes 52 seconds left to go.

"We threw 40 shots at him, and something was going to go in," Parise said. "We were playing smart, getting pucks deep, not taking high risks and that is how you have to play."

Finally trailing, the Swiss went on the offensive. U.S. goalie Ryan Miller (Sabres) had been relegated to spectator status much of the afternoon, facing just eight shots in the first two periods. In the third, he stopped 11; many were close, but the most dramatic slid along the goal line and hit the left post. It could have bounced either way; it bounced out.

After the game, the goalies met at center ice, with Miller consoling his counterpart. They had entered this game with similarly impressive numbers: Hiller stopped 44 shots in a shootout loss to Canada in pool play; Miller turned away 42 in the United States's 5-3 victory over the host country.

Three days later, that wound was still fresh. A good portion of the crowd cheered vociferously for Switzerland, and at times even booed the Americans. After all, Sunday's upset gave the United States a berth in the quarterfinals, forced Canada to win a play-in game against Germany, and ruined the gold medal matchup many here had been dreaming of: Canada vs. Russia. Instead, those two teams were scheduled to meet Wednesday in another quarterfinal.

But Wednesday's game turned out to be a tense affair for the United States, which fired 18 shots at Hiller in the first period. He turned aside every one, drawing gasps from the partisan crowd for some of his saves as the scoreboard flashed, "Quel arrĂȘt!" Ryan Kesler, who plays for the Vancouver Canucks and thus was one of the few Americans to draw cheers during pregame introductions, had several good opportunities but was unable to connect. Miller, meanwhile, faced just four shots.

Hiller faced another 14 shots in the second period. One shot, by Kesler, deflected off Hiller's shoulder, fell behind him and appeared to be sliding toward the goal line just before time expired, but after a replay, officials ruled the puck did not cross the line. The Swiss also killed two power plays in the period.

After Parise's first goal, the pace immediately became more frenetic at both ends, with the Americans trying for an insurance goal and the Swiss desperate to send the game into overtime. With about a minute and a half to play, Switzerland pulled Hiller, and Parise scored his empty-netter with 11.2 seconds remaining.

"He's a tremendous goaltender," Swiss forward Martin Pluss said of his teammate. "He's one of the best in the NHL. He's done everything for the team, but we should have capitalized on our chances as well."

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