It wasn't until Zach Parise hit an empty net in the final minute that the nervous Americans could exhale. Parise's second goal made it 2-0, advancing Team USA to tomorrow's semifinal round.
"The Swiss are very organized and very frustrating to play," American goalie Ryan Miller said. "So we're happy to get through this one."
Miller is the primary reason the Americans will play for a medal. He helped steal a win against Canada, thrusting the host country into a brutal bracket that included Russia and Sweden. Last night's Canada-Russia matchup was the hottest ticket in town - even though most Canadian fans believed and hoped it would be the gold-medal matchup.
Team USA will play the winner of last night's game between Finland and Czech Republic in a semifinal tomorrow.
"The idea is to get better every period," defenseman Ryan Suter said. "And we've done that."
They learned a lesson about perseverance, courtesy of Hiller. He was impenetrable, and his teammates just kept swarming. In the second period, the Americans started committing sloppy turnovers and making poor decisions with the puck.
"We were close to getting frustrated," Miller said mildly.
The United States had three power plays in that second period and couldn't get anything going. To make the situation even more exasperating, the Americans had a goal waved off at the end of the period.
With time running out, Ryan Kesler whipped the puck from the corner to Hiller's right. The goalie blocked it, then whacked at it with his stick. The puck popped up, rolled off his shoulder and into the net as the horn sounded.
A replay showed the puck was no more than an inch or two outside the goal line when the clock hit zero. It was the right call. More important was the way the Americans responded. Rather than get even tighter, they came out with fresh intensity for the third period.
"I think it showed maturity that we didn't panic," veteran defenseman Brian Rafalski said.
"In the dressing room, we kept positive," Parise said. "Be patient. We were mentally prepared for a tight game. We knew we were going against a great goaltender."
"We could've easily folded our tents and said the goalie's too good," Suter said.
They didn't, at least partly because their own goalie has been terrific. Miller doesn't throw himself around the crease the way Hiller does. He isn't flashy. He's just really good.
"The more boring he is the better he is," Rafalski said. "It means he's in position."
"He was a stone wall back there," said former Flyer Luca Sbisa, who played well for the Swiss despite breaking a finger in the first period.
"Your personality shows in the way you play goaltender," Miller said. "I'm kind of laid back and quiet."
It was Parise who finally got a puck past Hiller. Just 12 seconds into a power play, Rafalski took a shot. Parise swatted at the rebound. The puck bounced crazily beyond Hiller's reach and into the net.
Miller gets credit for the first U.S. Olympic shutout since Mike Richter in Salt Lake City in 2002, but he was first to credit the solid defensive play and shot-blocking in front of him.
The American team has coalesced quickly into a selfless, quietly confident group. The strategy of going with young legs and a few old heads like Rafalski and Chris Drury is looking prescient right about now.
In the middle of it all is Ryan, 22. Like his teammates, he looks as if he's having fun out there. He admitted to trash-talking with Hiller, his Anaheim teammate.
"I wanted to get in his head a bit," Ryan said. "I think there was a grin behind the cage there."
Ryan made one spectacular rush toward Hiller but wasn't able to get off a clean shot. If that, or the hit by Seger, bothered Ryan, he didn't show it on the ice or off.
"This was huge for us," Ryan said. "We have a lot of character guys. This is a unifying moment for us."
Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or email@example.com.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.