FINAL SCORE: Canada 3. Sweden 0
Five quick thoughts in the wake of the decisive 3-0 win over Sweden that allowed Canada to claim its second consecutive Olympic gold medal:
1. Assistant coaches Claude Julien and Ken Hitchcock will never get the credit they deserve for this win, so let's take a moment here to acknowledge their contributions to what may have been the greatest shutdown performance in hockey history. That system was their baby, and while Team Canada needed a few games to get the defensive scheme's specifics down, the players executed it at a level that approached perfection once they got to the games that mattered. There was a total buy-in from every guy on that roster--you literally cannot point to one player who wasn't fully committed to the system. It's hard to imagine any group of players making its coaches happier.
2. The No. 1 question coming into the tournament involved the ability of Canada's goaltending to match up with the best teams in the world. It's hard to imagine now what Canada will fret about as long as Carey Price remains healthy. Price was brilliant throughout the tournament, allowing just two even-strength goals, and three total, in five games. And when it got down to crunch time, he strung together an Olympic record shutout streak of 164:19. He wasn't the difference in the tournament, but he made every stop he had to make, which is all Canada could have asked for.
3. Turns out that Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews were saving up their offense for when it was needed most. Each got his first goal of the tournament today to power Canada to the win, but honestly, they could have put up another goose egg and been perfectly satisfied with their performances in Sochi. Crosby was Canada's most dangerous player from start to finish, but he really starting clicking once Patrice Bergeron was moved to his side. You could tell he was locked in offensively from his first shift today when he set up Bergeron for a terrific chance from the slot, but it was his sharp defensive read that led to the backbreaking goal. Toews put on a defensive clinic, especially on the forecheck, setting a tone that the rest of the forwards followed.
4. Outside of Henrik Lundqvist channeling the spirit of Dominik Hasek, the Swedes never really had a chance in this one, but losing Nicklas Backstrom right before the start of the game was a dagger. It's easy to understand how desperate a migraine might have made him, but come on--why would he even bring a banned allergy medication with him, let alone take it in Sochi? Huge fail on the part of Nicklas and Sweden's team doctors. Without him, the Swedes were wildly overmatched in the middle, though I thought Marcus Kruger kept his line involved through the first 40 minutes.
UPDATE: The official NHL statement on Backstrom from Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly:
“We understand that Nicklas Backstrom tested positive for a substance banned ‘in competition’ by the International Olympic Committee. It is our further understanding that the positive test was the result of a common allergy medication taken by the player knowingly, with the approval of the team doctor and without the intention of gaining an illegal or improper performance-enhancing benefit. In addition, the specific substance that resulted in the positive test is not currently on the League’s Prohibited Substances List.
“Subject to confirmation of the facts as we understand them, and given the fact that the substance is neither prohibited in the NHL nor was used in an improper manner here, we do not anticipate there being any consequences relative to Nicklas’ eligibility to participate in games for the Washington Capitals.”
5. When you look back at Canada's last two wins, it's amazing how little the Americans and Swedes were able to generate as the games wound down and their desperation levels should have been cranked up. Both teams tried to unleash their offensive dogs and they couldn't get a sniff of the attack zone because Team Canada wouldn't let them cross the red line with the puck. The Canadian squad was like a boa, slowly squeezing the life out of its prey. Really, those were two of the least-tense games a Canadian fan could have watched. Close scores or not, they were never in doubt during crunch time. This was a completely different kind of Canadian hockey team, one adapted specifically to winning on the big ice. Given those unique challenges, it might be the greatest ever assembled by Canada.
9:50: Teemu Selanne rightfully named the tournament MVP as voted by the media.
Here's the tournament All-Star team, as voted by the tournament directorate:
Goalkeeper: Henrik Lundqvist, Sweden
Defenseman: Erik Karlsson, Sweden
Defenseman: Drew Doughty, Canada
Forward: Teemu Selanne, Finland
Forward: Phil Kessel, USA
Forward: Mikael Granlund, Finland
9:40: The thing that struck me while watching the medals being handed out was how hotly debated selections like Rick Nash and Patrick Marleau and Jeff Carter made such indelible impressions in Sochi. They committed to their roles within Babcock's system and found a way to make a significant contribution in every game. It was amazing to watch a guy like Nash burning back into the defensive zone, making simple dumps in the neutral zone and going for a change...and yet opposing coaches had to be aware that that was Rick Freakin' Nash every time the fourth line hit the ice.
9:36: Really happy to see Marty St. Louis chip in today. Everyone knows how much being part of this team meant to him and he got a chance to show it today, adding some spice to the first and fourth lines. Strong effort from Jamie Benn, as well. I was skeptical of his inclusion because I had concerns about his defensive game, but he really brought it once he found his place alongside Getzlaf and Perry. Guys like him and Matt Duchene--key players on rebuilding teams--they'll be changed by this experience and their teams will be better for it.
9:35: Team Sweden now confirming Yahoo report that Backstrom missed the game for a doping violation.
9:33: Carey Price named goalie of the tournament. Erik Karlsson, the top defenceman. Phil Kessel named top forward. Can't believe that one--five goals against Slovakia and Slovenia, an absolute ghost in games against legitimate competition. Horrible choice. Should have been Selanne.
9:31: Every guy on Sweden looks like he just watched his dog get run over. Not upset, just...stunned.
9:30: Wait...Jean-Claude Killy is presenting the medals?!? That ... is ... awesome!
9:29: The big question coming into this tournament was the ability of Canada's goaltenders to meet the challenge. Price ended the tournament with a shutout streak of 164 minutes and 19 seconds. Challenge answered.
9:21: Canada's P.K. Subban (in uniform) and John Tavares (in sweater) on the ice for the handshake line. Good for them.
9:19: And that's it. Another dominating defensive performance and it's gold for Canada. Three medal round games, one goal against. Amazing
9:18: Canadians in the crowd start singing "Hey, hey, goodbye." One minute to gold.
9:14: Really surprising how little desperation there's been in Sweden's game this period. They're outmanned to be sure, but I expected a little more battle when the game was still in doubt.
9:12: Five minutes to go...and Erik Karlsson is clearly frustrated...
9:10: Six minutes to go and Sweden finally gets their second shot of the period.
9:08: Canada back to full-strength. Jamie Benn had the best chance on that Swedish PP. They haven't mailed it in, but the fight's all but beaten out of them.
9:07: Canada just pinned the Swedes in their zone for 20 seconds. Sweden completely shut down to this point by Canada's smothering defense. They've generated just one shot this period
9:04: Corey Perry to the box for tripping with 9:48 to go in the third.
9:02: Yahoo is reporting that Sweden's Nicklas Backstrom missed today's game as a result of a doping violation, not migraines as originally suggested. From the Yahoo report: "An NHLPA source tells Yahoo Sports that Backstrom violated anti-doping rules after using an allergy medication. Some, like Claritin, contain pseudoephedrine, a banned substance by the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Federation."
9:00: TEAM CANADA GOAL! Chris Kunitz...Daniel Sedin turns it over just outside the Swedish blueline, Crosby finds Kunitz streaking into the zone and he beats Lundqvist bar down on the short side. That's a 3-0 lead with 10:56 to go in the third. The fat lady is warming up.
8:55: A Jeff Carter takeaway leads to 30 frantic seconds in the Swedish zone. Great chances for both Toews and Marleau. Getzlaf-Perry-Benn follow with another strong shift. Tough for Sweden to cut into the lead when they're chasing the puck in their own zone.
8:51: Desperate for some offense, Marts finally removes the shackles from Ekman-Larsson and gives him a shift.
8:51: Good pressure there by Sweden's top line. Daniel Sedin's been their most effective forward today with three good chances and some determined defensive play.
8:48: Look for Canada's shifts to be cut to somewhere between 20-30 seconds in the third. Lots of chip it in and get a change as they try to prevent tired legs from becoming an issue.
8:46: Karlsson caught up again, leading to three-on-one for Canada. Lundqvist denies the Toews shot to keep this one within reach.
8:45: Third period underway.
8:42: Toews (12:11) and Getzlaf (12:04) leading all forwards in TOI. Be interesting to see how Babcock parses out the defensive ice time in the third. Doughty (15:03), Weber (14:42) and Keith (13:58) could be almost a three-man rotation down the stretch.
8:40: Team Sweden coach Par Marts not liking what he's seeing out of Karlsson, apparently. Limited to just 11:52 after two periods--only Alex Edler (10:23) is seeing less time on the Swedish blueline. He was conspicuously caught up ice on at least three occasions that period, but the Swedes need offense and the forwards aren't getting it done. Marts might have to bite the bullet and let him run free in the third to try to get something past Price.
8:35: Sweden really feeling the loss of Backstrom, Zetterberg and Sedin. Marcus Johansson and Marcus Kruger not quite up to the challenge posed by Crosby et al. With Canada owning the middle of the ice, this lead is looking pretty safe.
8:30: That's the end of two. Shots 11-9 for Canada in that frame, 23-20 for the game.
8:29: Nothing doing on that power play. Sweden back to full strength
8:28: Great zone entry by Canada wasted when Perry passes up on a chance to shoot from the slot and tries to dish it to Toews who is off to the side. Have to take that shot there.
8:26: Berglund runs Kunitz's face into the lip of the boards and he's leaking oil. Canada to the power play with 2:40 to go in the second. going to the box for a questionable hit on Kunitz...
8:25: That play by Ericsson was inexcusable. There were two Canadians directly in front of him as he tried to gain the zone and the only safe play was a dump in. A little early to be pressing offensively there.
8:22:TEAM CANADA GOAL! It's 2-0 Canada. Sidney Crosby comes in alone and beats Lundqvist with a backhand after he steals the puck at the Canadian blueline off the stick of Jonathan Ericsson.
8:21: Another shaky shift from the Hjalmarsson/Oduya duo leads to another great Canadian chance. Those two are handling the puck like it is a live grenade.
8:19: Now in final five minutes of the period...
8:15: Canada's fourth line keeps up the pressure that started with the Perry bid. Furious action around the Swedish net, highlighted by a Daniel Alfredsson shot block to deny a Martin St. Louis chance. Ice is starting to tilt Canada's way.
8:13: Perry and Benn in on a two-on-one....Lundqvist denies a sizzling wrister from Perry.
8:12: Face-off win in Canadian zone leads to a premium chance for Karlsson. Loui Eriksson circling the net again as Price makes the stop. He's been close on at least three occasions already today.
8:11: CBC reports that 11 special pucks were prepared for the gold-medal game. Six already have been fired out of play.
8:08: Silfverberg's out of the box. Back to even strength. Power play still not sharp for Canada.
8:06: Getzlaf finds Perry all alone in the high slot and he shanks it wide. Can't be wasting premium chances like that with Lundqvist looking this sharp.
8:05: Canada back to the power play. Silfverberg to the box for delay of game after his clearing attempt sails into the stands....Jeff Carter stoned on a backhand chance in tight. Sweden's defense starting to break down.
8:04: Great chance by Canada's makeshift fourth line. Duchene swipes the puck from Karlsson in the neutral zone, drops it to Nash who finds St. Louis open on the far side. Lundqvist got just enough of his one-timer to keep the margin at a single goal.
8:01: Amazing to see Jamie Been getting a regular shift on the PK these past few games for Canada. He's maybe the seventh forward option with the Dallas Stars, but he's earned the trust of Babcock here.
8:00: Canada back to full strength. One shot on that Swedish power play.
7:59: Nice note from Sportsnet: Every Canadian goal in this tournament has been scored by a Western Conference player.
7:56: And the second period begins....
7:54: Don Cherry is ripping the Canadian D over on CBC. Clearly not as sharp as it was in the semis, but it's been perfect at limiting second chances. Carey Price has been sharp covering for those initial mistakes.
7:51: Coach Par Marts spreading the love around, with four D men earning between 6:26 and 6:57. Surprisingly, Erik Karlsson was third in TOI--he should see more ice as the game progresses. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been stapled to the bench, as he was in the semis.
7:46: Toews (6:44), Carter (6:42) and Marleau (6:38) lead Canada's forwards in TO!. Crosby just 5:30 and Bergeron just 4:35. With the legs those two had in the first, it's hard to understand why Babcock isn't tapping them on the shoulder more often. Bergeron led Canada with three shots.
7:45: The first 20 minutes are in the books with Canada holding the 1-0 lead, but Sweden will start the second with nearly two full minutes of power play time on the fresh sheet of ice. Shots in the period, Canada 12 and Sweden 11.
7:41: Final minute of the first and Canada goes to the box. Chris Kunitz gets his stick in the mush of Marcus Kruger with 12.5 to go....and the horn sounds.
7:40: Marty St. Louis out for his second shift of the game with the Crosby line. He's made himself known on both chances. Babcock is getting his legs loose early in case he's needed later in the game.
7:38: Doughty turns over the puck at the blueline, Toews steals it right back. Huge play there to deny the Swedes a shorthanded bid near the end of that power play. Not much happening for Canada on that chance. Back to even strength now.
7:34: Canada goes to the power play. Jonathan Ericsson goes for the hold on Matt Duchene at 14:55 of the first. Carter, Kunitz Crosby, Keith and Weber start the PP.
7:33: Goal came at 12:55 of the first. Carter and Weber with the assists on that one. Carter worked the puck out of the corner to the left of Lundqvist and fed Toews in the crease for a tip-in past Lundqvist. Canada doing a great job of establishing that presence down low.
7:29: TEAM CANADA GOAL! Jonathan Toews from Jeff Carter. Toews, his first of the tournament.
7:28: Bergeron rips one off the post, but there are only yellow sweaters around the rebound.
7:26: Ten minutes gone in the first and shots are 7-3 Sweden. Neither team is sitting back in this one--both taking chances to create offense.
7:21: Canada's forwards fully engaged in the defensive battle. That last Swedish rush was met by five red sweaters at the blueline.
7:17: Five minutes in and already a much more wide-open pace than was expected.
7:16: Nyquist walks in from the corner unmolested and rings one off the far post. Somehow it stays out of the net as Price covers up the rebound. Outstanding shift by the fourth line of Sweden.
7:15: Canada already has penetrated the defense for two chances in the blue paint. Swedes have to tighten up in front of Lundqvist.
7:11: Tremendous chance for Patrice Bergeron off a cross-crease pass from Crosby. Lundqvist stands tall.
7:10: The puck drops and we're underway...Canada's Carey Price being tested early...
7:06: Reports out of Sweden say Nicklas Backstrom is out due to migraine headaches. Can't imagine how he's feeling if he couldn't go in a game like this. Jimmie Ericsson steps up for Backstrom, reportedly on top line between Daniel Sedin and Loui Eriksson.
6:45: Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the Sochi Olympics gold medal game in men's hockey. It's a battle of two unbeaten teams in Canada and Sweden, two countries that between them have captured the last three gold medals. Both sides come in playing exceptional defensive hockey. Canada, which has allowed just three goals through five games, advanced by virtue of a 1-0 win over Team USA. The Swedes knocked off eventual bronze medalists Finland by a score of 2-1. A low-scoring game then seems almost inevitable.
A couple things to watch for:
Special teams: Led by Erik Karlsson, Sweden has been almost unstoppable with the extra man, connecting on seven of 19 chances (36.8 percent). Canada comes in with the top penalty kill, allowing just one goal through its first five games.
Dominance through the middle: The Swedes have thrived despite injuries to their top-two centers, Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg. That could change today as Canada counters with Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews and Matt Duchene. The speed, strength and smarts of that group should allow the Canadians to control the middle of the ice.
Offense from defense: Karlsson has a share of the tournament's scoring lead and is the engine that drives the Swedish attack, but Canada's backliners have combined to tally more points than any other D corps. Led by Drew Doughty and Shea Weber, it's their ability to get the puck to the net that will set the table for what should be a steady stream of Canadian forwards heading to the net.
Shooting gallery: Henrik Lundqvist should see a lot of rubber. Canada leads the tournament with 205 shots, but is connecting at just under seven percent. Sweden has been more efficient, connecting on over 11 percent of their chances. They may have to take that up a notch though, as Canada is allowing fewer than 20 shots per game, on average.
Possession game: Canada will look to obsessively control the puck as it did against Team USA. By doing that, they can limit Sweden's attack zone time and minimize the impact of Karlsson, the one gamebreaker the Swedes employ.
Sid's time: Five games, no goals and a history for making the most of dramatic moments. This, finally, could be Crosby's day in Sochi.
It'll be three Canadians -- referee Kelly Sutherland and linesmen Greg Devorski and Derek Amell--and a dual-citizen in Brad Meier wearing the stripes today.