Unbeaten men's hockey teams prepare for big finishSwitzerland goaltender Jonas Hiller reacts as time winds off the clock against the Czech Republic to end a men's ice hockey game against the Czech Republic at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Switzerland won 1-0. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
That's why the Swiss are heading into the elimination rounds with two victories and the confidence they can beat anybody in front of their standout goalie.
Hiller made 26 saves in his second Olympic shutout, Simon Bodenmann scored in the first period, and Switzerland beat the Czech Republic 1-0 Saturday night in the teams' final preliminary-round game.
Hiller, the starter for the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks, has stopped all 47 shots he has faced over two games in Sochi. His brilliance and his teammates' defense allowed Switzerland to win two of its three games despite scoring the fewest possible goals to accomplish such a feat.
''Everybody is doing an unbelievable job in our own end,'' Hiller said. ''Sacrificing, blocking shots, blocking guys out, clearing rebounds. It makes life easier as a goalie. Same time, I really hope at some point we find a way to score more than just one goal a game, so that takes off a little pressure off the goalies, but we take the win and we're very excited about it.''
The Swiss barely survived an inspired third period at Bolshoy Ice Dome by the Czechs, who finished the preliminary round 1-2. Jagr played another outstanding game in his fifth Olympics, but he couldn't beat Hiller after scoring a goal in each of the Czechs' first two games.
Ondrej Pavelec stopped 25 shots for the Czechs, who should be a dangerous team in the upcoming elimination games despite their losses.
''Both teams had their chances, but I think we had a little bit more,'' Pavelec said. ''Their goalie played really well, and we hit the post twice. I think they have a good defensive system and it is tough to play against them when they score a goal (early).''
The Swiss were a popular dark-horse pick heading into Sochi with their silver medals at last year's world championships and their balanced, cohesive roster backstopped by the dependable Hiller. But they aren't exactly lighting Sochi on fire offensively, beating Latvia 1-0 on a last-minute score before getting shut out 1-0 by Sweden with Reto Berra in net.
The Czechs and Swiss both lost to the Swedes, who won the group with a 5-3 victory over Latvia across the street at Shayba Arena.
''It was great to have these two wins and be second in the group and then maybe get a little easier opponent (in the quarterfinals),'' Hiller said. ''At the same time, I don't think anybody would be satisfied if we could say after the tournament, 'Well, yeah, we beat the Czechs, and that's kind of it.' For us, the most important is the next game.''
The Swiss went ahead late in the first period when Kevin Romy controlled the puck behind Pavelec's net and got it to Denis Hollenstein, who found Bodenmann in the slot for a one-timer. All three players are from the strong Swiss domestic league, which is given credit by Hiller for the recent upswing in Swiss international performance.
The Czechs peppered Hiller with chances early, and Milan Michalek missed a goal by inches when his one-timer hit Hiller's left post.
Hiller was outstanding in the second period, and he got help from his crossbar when Tomas Plekanec hit it during a delayed penalty early in the third. Jagr carried the puck out from behind the net for a shot with 15 seconds left, but hit the perfectly positioned Hiller squarely in the chest.