In the end, it all seemed a bit too easy. Team Canada, after never trailing on the scoreboard for a single second in the tournament, overpowered the Swedes to win its second straight Olympic gold medal by a score of 3-0.
In the second period, Sidney Crosby, who had been criticized for a lack of scoring at the 2014 Winter Games, stripped Swedish defenceman Jonathan Ericsson at Canada’s blue line, flew in alone, and banked a backhand off Henrik Lundqvist’s pad to give his nation a 2-0 lead.
It was over then.
Controversial Team Canada selection Chris Kunitz proved his worth in the final frame, whipping one over the shoulder of Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Toews and Crosby also scored for Canada in the gold medal game four years in Vancouver. But it wasn’t scoring that made Team Canada so dominant in Sochi.
Defence wins championships, and Team Canada was a defensive juggernaut throughout this Olympic hockey tournament in Russia. General manager Steve Yzerman selected two-way forwards like Patrick Marleau, Patrice Bergeron and Patrick Sharp over dazzling offensive marvels, such as, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin and James Neal. The plan worked. Canada owned the neutral zone on the big ice sheet, which is something its pros struggled to do at Nagano 1998 and again at Torino 2006. But they learned from their mistakes.
Ralph Kruger, a Canadian coach with international experience, was put on payroll to prevent another overseas malfunction on international sized ice. He answered questions, and provided information… preparation.
Team Canada allowed three goals against through six games in Sochi. Canada outshot its opponents 241 to 129, and held hockey heavyweights Sweden, America and Finland to a combined one goal. For a nation that couldn’t win on the big ice, this was Canada’s most decisive tournament victory in recent memory.
Entering the tournament, it was Canada’s to lose. They didn’t lose.
Carey Price did his job. He stopped every puck thrown his way in elimination play, save for a set-play breakaway by the surprising Latvians.
They all did their jobs.
After an undefeated preliminary round the biggest concern regarding Team Canada was its inability to score in bunches. Captain Sidney Crosby was even questioned for his lack of offensive production, to which Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock clarified that his captain’s performance in Sochi would be based on winning, not goal scoring. On this day, with gold on the line, Crosby did both. A +.
Over the last twelve years, Canada has won gold at the Winter Games in 2002, 2010, and again today, at the 2014 tournament in Sochi. They also claimed top prize at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, the only one of its kind to take place since 1996. But today’s win has a unique distinction: it transpired off North American soil.
All things considered, Canada has now won four of the last five best-on-best hockey challenges. That is domination.
In fairness, Team Sweden was without its top three centres, all of whom are world class players and would’ve made a difference in today’s gold medal game. However, Team Canada was also without some heavy-hitters – Steven Stamkos and John Tavares both missed the gold medal game due to injury. That being said, if you ask the Swedes, they’d have probably preferred Stamkos and Tavares in for Canada if it meant Zetterberg, Henrik Sedin and Nicklas Backstrom were also healthy enough to play.
Injuries happen, though. Canada finished fourth in Nagano without Joe Sakic, Paul Kariya and Mario Lemieux.
Swedish centre Nicklas Backstrom was suspended from the gold medal game after testing positive for a banned substance, Yahoo!’s Greg Wyshynski reported.
Swedish coach Par Marts was understandably upset about Backstrom’s inability to dress up for Sweden today in the gold medal game at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. Backstrom, however, is probably devastated; this would’ve been the biggest moment of his hockey career to date. And it’s possible another opportunity of golden magnitude never again presents itself for the Capitals star.
Sweden coach Par Marts on not having Backstrom: "Of course I don’t like. It sucks. It’s like kindergarten."
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) February 23, 2014
What was not “kindergarten” was Team Canada’s roster, constructed with winners and playoff heroes. Today’s goal scorers, Toews, Crosby and Kunitz have won five Cups, collectively. The pressure didn’t get to this team. They understand pressure. They understand winning, too. And they’re very good at hockey.