- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Canada had to wait 12 years to exorcize its Olympic shootout demons. And this time, the team didn't leave its superstar on the bench for it.
Sidney Crosby was 10 years old when Wayne Gretzky famously stayed glued to the bench during a semifinal shootout against the Czech Republic, one that broke the hearts of Canadians around the world and left The Great One staring disbelievingly into space.
"I do remember, I was home watching like every other Canadian," Crosby said Thursday night.
Sid the Kid got not one but two chances Thursday night, and you figured he probably wouldn't miss the second time around. With 17,019 fans standing and howling at the top of their lungs, and likely 35 million or so more doing the same in living rooms and bars from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain skated in on marvelous Jonas Hiller and coolly knifed a shot that beat the Switzerland netminder stick side.
Just as he had dreamed of doing as a kid in Cole Harbour.
"Yeah, it was usually on the first one, though," Crosby said after the nervy 3-2 win.
Thanks to the bizarre International Ice Hockey Federation shootout rules, players get to shoot again after the first three have gone. Team Canada coach Mike Babcock figured what the heck, put your best player right back in.
"On the bench, we said, 'Do we go with [Rick] Nash, who is fourth in those [NHL shootout] stats, or do we go with the guy who scores every time?'" Babcock said. "We just thought he had a look at him once and would get it the second time. It was that simple."
The best part of all? Crosby's reaction after scoring a goal that allowed Canadians to breathe again. No arms raised, head down, ho-hum.
"I wasn't sure what the format was," Crosby said. "When the first three shooters were over, I wasn't sure if we went back or we had new guys. The coach came over and said, 'You want to go again?' I said, 'Sure, I'll try.'
"I just tried to keep it simple, find a spot and put it there."
Did he ever. But Crosby repeatedly credited goalie Martin Brodeur, who stopped all four shootout attempts. "Marty gave me a second crack at it," he said.
Brodeur, who is 37, was in Nagano, Japan, that fateful night in 1998, but in street clothes as the third goalie. This time, the savvy veteran was in it. He looked as cool as can be as he stared down the four Swiss shooters. That's the kind of confidence Team Canada will need as it battles adversity throughout this tournament. Brodeur welcomes pressure, he doesn't run away from it.
"Marty did a great job," Babcock said. "He's real important for us, and that's great leadership. We have to drink up the situation and we have to respond to it. I thought his example was fantastic, and he'll start against the U.S. [on Sunday]."
The pressure on this Canadian team to deliver gold is well-documented. It's akin to what Brazil would feel hosting soccer's World Cup. On Thursday, when the Swiss tied the score at 2 late in the second period, the pressure produced some cracks in the Canadian lineup.
"Oh, yeah," Babcock said. "I think there's no question. Pressure -- if you don't drink it up, if you don't want it, if you don't relish it -- is a great equalizer."
But unlike Torino four years ago, Canada overcame the Swiss scare this time. And although the difference might seem like a sliver, a 3-2 shootout win instead of a 2-0 loss, the different result is gigantic mentally. The Canadians beat out the adversity.
"As a coach, you want to win every night and you want to play well every night, but in every championship I've been involved with, your team has to go through adversity, and that's what we had here today," Babcock said. "We were able to survive it."
"It's not a bad thing for us to go through, and hopefully it's going to help us along the way," Crosby added.
But let's not sugarcoat things here. Despite the 47-shot barrage on Hiller, who stood on his head to keep Switzerland in the game, this Team Canada performance lacked on many levels.
"We didn't think we were as good as we're capable of at all," Babcock said. "We didn't think we moved the puck like we could, we didn't think we were a good five-man unit up and down the rink, we didn't think we attacked their net with relentlessness like we could. We thought we got outworked at times. You go through the whole thing, all of us have to be better."
More specifically, despite that 47-shot total, the Canadian players believed they could put more rubber on the net.
"I think we're passing up on a lot of shots even though we had that many," Nash said. "A lot of the times, we just kind of skated away from it. We'll try and get more shots on [U.S. goalie Ryan] Miller next game."
The experiment, meanwhile, continues on the first-line right wing for Crosby and Nash. To recap so far over two games: first it was Patrice Bergeron, then Jarome Iginla and then Bergeron before Jonathan Toews closed it out Thursday.
So, now what? Team Canada will have Friday off and will hit the ice again Saturday in practice ahead of the mammoth clash with the United States on Sunday.
"In order to win at this level of competition, you have to get better with every game," Babcock said. "You got to continue to take steps. I think this was a huge step for our team to understand how hard it's going to be and how well we have to play."
A step perhaps, but certainly a scare.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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