Gold, Canada! Our game and native land...
Don't the words to Canada's stirring anthem sound something like that now? For the third time in the last four Winter Olympics,the song was played after the men’s gold medal game. Canada's women have been serenaded by it after all four Games.
To be honest, there wasn’t much noise on Sunday from the Swedes, who dropped the final game of the tournament to the defending champs, 3-0, and put up little resistance as the final minutes ticked away. Carey Price, Canada’s often-bored goalie, made 24 saves and Sidney Crosby’s second-period breakaway goal was the offensive highlight of a one-sided match that also included strikes from Jonathan Toews and Chris Kunitz. The victory completed a superb, smothering defensive performance by the Canadians, who allowed only three goals in their six games while scoring 17 of their own.
At the final horn, Canada's relatively restrained celebration--which fell a few howls short of the reverie the team enjoyed after beating the U.S. in a heart attack-courting overtime thriller four years earlier--spoke to the workmanlike manner in which it had dispatched its opponents in Sochi. The Canadians left little doubt about which team had been the best on the ice on Sunday as well as throughout the entire tournament. There was no need for Crosby’s heroics that secured the gold in 2010. “Not as dramatic, obviously, but really solid all the way,” he said. “We played the way we wanted to play. The work ethic everyone played with allowed us to put out that type of effort, from the goaltending on out.”
The two teams had each won gold twice during the previous five Olympics, with Sweden beating Canada in a shootout in 1994 and topping Finland in 2006. Canada twice defeated the U.S. on North American ice, in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010. In their Sochi showdown, the Swedes could barely get anything going. “I think they just took it away from us,” said forward Daniel Sedin. “They didn’t make any mistakes and they didn’t give us any room.”
Team Sweden was already missing some of its top forwards due to injury and did not dress Niklas Backstrom for the final contest after he failed a drug test for a banned sinus medication.
Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg were already among the missing. It wouldn’t have mattered. One more Swedish player would likely have been one more disgruntled Swedish player. “It was a big disappointment being this close to a gold medal,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who faced 36 shots in the game. “But, look, they were great today, great in their transition game, and they really limited our chances.”
Defensively, the Canadians cut off the neutral zone the way Europeans often do against North American squads that succumb to traps and traffic while trying to make plays and are unable to generate an effective forecheck--an especially daunting task on the ice surface in Sochi that is 15 feet wider than NHL rinks. Big ice? Big deal. For all the talk about styles and systems, the better team triumphed and probably could have done so in a bowl of borscht, if necessary.
“After a while, we didn’t think about the ice surface,” said Canada defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. “We just played.”
The game looked like it would be Team Canada’s from the start. The Canadians drew the first scoring chance in the very first minute as Crosby fed Patrice Bergeron just outside the crease, but Lundqvist stopped him with his right pad. Bergeron also hit the post with a 45-foot snapshot that fooled Sweden's netminder midway through the period.
The Swedes had an excellent chance at the four-minute mark when Gustav Nyquist curled in front from the side of the Canadian goal and slid a shot off the post. The puck banked off the back of Price’s pads, but the goalie reached behind him and scooped it out of the crease.
Canada broke through at 12:55 of the first when Toews redirected Jeff Carter’s centering pass from the right corner under Lundqvist’s left pad. After tjat. Canada didn’t give Sweden much in the second period, though with five minutes left, Alex Steen drove to the net and chipped a centering pass in the air after being stickchecked by Kunitz. The puck fluttered until Price snared it right in front of his mask. It might have been Sweden’s most dangerous chance of the game. “I can’t say enough about them, that group of guys in front of me, that defense,” said Price. “It was a real pleasure.”
The Canadians extended their lead to 2-0 when Crosby stole a puck off the stick of Steen at his own blueline, sped down the left side on a breakaway, deked Lundqvist with his forehand, and slid a backhand off the goalie's pad and into the net. (As an item of interest, it was the first of Canada’s 16 goals in the tournament to be scored by a player from an Eastern Conference team.)
While the Canadians displayed Euro-stinginess in the neutral zone for much of the game, they put on some good old North American cycling in Sweden’s defensive corners, punishing its defense and eating up valuable time. On two straight shifts, the lines of Toews, Carter and Patrick Marleau and later Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Jamie Benn hemmed the Swedes in their own zone for nearly 90 seconds.
After playing well for most of the tournament, Lundqvist finally gave up a questionable goal nine minutes into the final stanza, when Kunitz beat him with a nasty but stoppable wrist shot from the top of the left circle. The shot went past the screen of Swedish defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and over Lundqvist’s right shoulder. By that time, the beleaguered Swedes were clearly done. It took them until there were only six minutes left to play before the final buzzer to muster their second shot of the period.
During the medal ceremony, the Canadian players stood with their arms around one another as they did in Vancouver and sang loudly, if not entirely on key. The voices of scattered Canadian spectators were also distinguishable on the opposite side of Bolshoy Arena as O Canada yet again topped hockey's soundtrack at the Winter Olympics.