Since the breakup of the Soviet Union the international hockey world has waited for the next great Olympic power to rise. After the Unified Team struck gold at Albertville in 1992, the next three Olympiads saw three different countries claim gold medals. Though Sweden was the first country to win the most precious medal twice in the post-Soviet era, the inclusion of NHL players seemed to set the table for Canada to return to the dominance they wrought in winning six of the first seven Olympic tournaments. The 2014 Sochi Olympics presented the Canadians not only an opportunity to be the first back-to-back gold medalists since the USSR won at Sarajevo in 1984 and then at Calgary in 1988, but also break the double gold deadlock with the Swedes. It seems only appropriate that the Final would come down to the two countries who have strongest claim to post-Soviet superiority, and with the result the international game appears to have its new red dominator.
Final Score: Canada 3, Sweden 0
First Period Recap: After seeing Canada put the clamps on the tournament's second highest scoring team in a 1-0 semifinal win over the United States, the question facing Sweden would be how and if they could successfully attack the stout red and white defense. In the early going Tre Kronor appeared to have a game plan they could succeed with, cycling the puck along the wall and getting three forwards deep in the Canadian zone, even hitting the post in the early goings of the game on a nice drive to the net from the far corner by Gustav Nyquist. Through the first seven minutes of play the Swedes were out-shooting Canada 5-2, bringing multiple forwards up on the forecheck and unafraid to activate their defense.
In what was an ominous bit of foreshadowing the line of Sidney Crosby with Chris Kunitz and Patrice Bergeron was dangerous in the early going, getting the majority of Canada's quality shots in the first ten minutes of play. After absorbing the initial ten minutes where Sweden seemed to have the better of the action and buoyed by improved play from their captain, the Canadians turned up the offensive pressure. It paid off when Shea Weber dropped the puck along the near wall for Jeff Carter, who skated the puck down to the corner and scorched a pass to the front of the net for Jonathan Toews to redirect between the wickets of Henrik Lundqvist and take a 1-0 lead at 12:55.
Even one of the few times a defenseman made a mistake for Canada, the unit was able to recover and keep the chance from becoming too grand. Marc-Edouard Vlasic turned the puck over at his own blue line to Carl Hagelin, but he was held to a shot from the top of the far circle right at the catching glove of Carey Price. Each team took a penalty, with Jonathan Ericsson whistled for holding Martin St. Louis, leading to Ryan Getzlaf directing a nice bit of cycling on the Canadian advantage but they couldn't put a puck home. Kunitz, not controlling his stick after missing a pass, popped Marcus Kruger up high in the final seconds to give the Swedes a carryover power play, but it was 1-0 after the first period with Canada holding a 12-11 edge in shots.
Second Period Recap: With the fresh ice sheet Sweden was able to generate four shots on the advantage, but none of them could best Price. Feeding from the kill, Canada nearly doubled their lead when Rick Nash set up Matt Duchene with a drop pass near wall, who then centered cross-slot for St. Louis but Lundqvist stayed with it, stretching to make the pad stop and getting a fortunate whistle with the puck still rattling in his immediate area. With the elevated Canadian pressure after a Carter backhanded attempt, Jakob Silfverberg took a delay of game penalty for clearing the puck over the glass at 7:46.
Again Getzlaf lead a nice stretch of man advantage possession, ultimately setting up Corey Perry in the high slot for a drop-to-a-knee blast that sailed high over the net to Lundqvist's stick side. Sweden was able to kill the penalty and later had a nice set deflection play off an offensive zone face-off win, but Price was equal to the task. It would be their last particularly good opportunity, as once again around the 10 minute mark of the period the Canadians turned up the heat offensively. Perry had a 2-on-1 break in with Jamie Benn, using him as a decoy and attempting to go top corner far post but Lundqvist kept his left knee and glove high to make the save. King Henrik would be called upon again moments later to make a sprawling glove save on St. Louis at the far post, flailing on his posterior to deny a rebound before his defenders could clear.
After Price made a nice glove save on a odd deflection off a shot from the far circle by Patrik Berglund, Canada would land a Ronda Rousey-esque knee strike to the Swedish spirit with just under five minutes left in the period. Ericsson coughed the puck up to Crosby at the Canadian blue line, allowing him to blaze free alone on Lundqvist and score his first goal of the Olympics with a beautiful forehand-to-backhand drag deke across the slot that Canada's captain pocketed home far post. The marker seemed to create an air of inevitability about the game, especially when the Canadians controlled the next shift as well, then Berglund took a boarding penalty on Kunitz dumping him face first into the dasher in front of the Swedish bench. When the horn sounded Canada lead 2-0, and had a 23-20 edge in shots.
Third Period Recap: Any question of whether or not the failure to take advantage of the late second period power play by Canada would cost the team momentum was answered emphatically as they grabbed the game by the scruff to start the final frame. Toews lead a 3-on-2 break that Niklas Kronwall made a nice sprawling play on to take away the passing lanes and force the shot, which Lundqvist smothered. The chances kept coming for the team in red though.
Team leading goal scorer Drew Doughty rung the iron with a slap shot from the blue line that sinewed its way through traffic before clonking the pipe behind Lundqvist's glove. Carter pick-pocketed a Swede at the Canada blue line but couldn't escape the three trailing yellow sweaters, so Patrick Marleau won the puck and swooped a wrap-around opportunity that was denied. Getzlaf, Benn, and Perry had a strong shift cycling below the goal line leading to a Perry curl out from behind the cage attempt to Lundqvist's stick side that was saved. In all of it the forechecking pressure was relentless, like the crushing Persian horde consigning the Swedes to a fate akin to the Spartans of 300.
Canada held Sweden to only one shot for just over the first 14 minutes of the period, during which they scored their final goal of the tournament. Poetically enough it was pressure from Crosby that forced a turnover by Daniel Alfredsson that Kunitz scooped up, skated across the high slot then unleashed an emphatic wrister that beat Lundqvist bar-down at 9:04. The goal served a final exclamation point as if to answer the questioners of his selection, the team's offense, and whether they could repeat on international ice in a final triumph.
With the 3-0 lead the broadcast turned to pointing out things such as Getzlaf's back-checking, and that Latvia was the last team to crack the Canadian defense. A Perry tripping minor was of little consequence as Sweden only managed four shots in the period, never once seriously challenging Price and finished the game out-shot 36-24. As the crowd alternated between chants in support of Canada and the host country, time ticked down to a celebration marked by the seeming coolness of certainty. There appeared no overwhelming, misted-eye emotional sentiments, more that of a calm mission accomplished and the satisfaction of a job well done. Even the singing of the national anthem had the feeling of "This is what's right. This is where we belong. This is how it ought be."
For the defensive dominance of Canada over the 11-day stretch of Olympic competition, it was the pre-tournament chalk prediction that very aptly came to fruition.
The Good: How strong was the Canadian defense? After conceding 14 goals in six games at Vancouver, this team allowed only three all tournament and never trailed. It was a serpentine effort, squeezing the life out of opposition with ferocious back and forechecking from the forwards and an aggressive defense corps which refused to cede the blue line. For all the questions of the group's offense in the end it mattered little when they rarely allowed any opportunity of high quality against, and for the few grade A chances there was Carey Price turning in a Best Goalkeeper-winning performance.
The Bad: Much in the way that the New York Yankees generate some of the most visceral reactions, holding the top spot with the distinction of most titles all-time as well lines fans up to view the dynasty either favorably or otherwise. It's great when you support the team/country that stands astride the sport, but those that do not are left with the empty burning feeling in the pit of their stomach when Goliath wins again.
The Ugly: Nicklas Backstrom ended up not playing, the third Swedish center unable to play (Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin suffered injury) forcing Jimmie Ericsson into a top line role. First it was reported that migraine headaches would keep him from action, before word later leaked that he had tested positive for a banned substance. It was unfortunate timing and served as a bit of an awkward side story during the game.
Honorable Mention: Facing the greatest collection of talent in the world today Henrik Lundqvist did everything he could to give his countrymen the opportunity to stay in the game. King Henrik made 33 saves, many of them coming on high quality scoring chances, and kept the game within striking distance until it was apparent in the third period that there was no rally to be mustered. He should have at least had his name read during the presentation of the silver medals, a foul-up most unfortunate.
3rd Star: Ryan Getzlaf - When you have the national media types like Ed Olczyk specifically selecting you as a player to speak glowingly about during the medal ceremony, you know you've put together something special. While Getzlaf's dominance on the puck and scoring are something Ducks fans have enjoyed all season, it really stood out in conjunction with the likes of twin Corey Perry, Patrick Marleau, and Jamie Benn.
2nd Star: Sidney Crosby - In his second Olympic gold medal game, Crosby once again scored the goal that served as the dagger. His line with Chris Kunitz and Patrice Bergeron was one of the team's most dangerous in the early going, and he helped create the turnover that lead to Kunitz's 'cherry on the sundae' third period tally.
1st Star: Jonathan Toews - It's so apt that the player argued by many as the best two-way center in the league would not only score what ended up being the golden goal, but that he would play more (19:13) than any of the other Canadian forwards. Whether leading the team with four shots in the game or helping to lock things down in the final frame, Toews typified the kind of approach that the squad took with the tournament.
Next Game: The Anaheim Ducks resume play Friday, February 28 at 7 PM against the St. Louis Blues on Prime Ticket and AM 830. Be sure to check back early in the week for Anaheim Calling: The Podcast where we'll wrap up the Olympics and turn focus to the final 22 regular season games.