Canada's golden defence
Price perfect, Sweden loses 3-0
There was no last-minute blown lead, no golden goal, no host nation heroics, no high drama.
Tonight, Canada played a perfect game of hockey and skated to a thoroughly deserved 3-0 win over Sweden at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, closing the 2014 Olympics with an efficiency Sweden could not match.
In fact, Canada finished these Olympics with goalie Carey Price not allowing a goal for the final 164:19 of play.
"Carey was great," said coach Mike Babcock. "Price is one of those guys with his talent base, he can be a real difference-maker in the NHL and international hockey if he chooses to. It looks to me like he does."
For Babcock, though, team defence doesn't mean lining up five players at centre or collapsing around your goaltender. "Great defence means you play defence fast," he explained. "We outchanced these teams big-time. We didn’t ask these guys to back up."
"This team was totally dedicated to keeping the puck out of our net," Price said, "and we really had a relentless work ethic. We did it, we’re so excited and looking forward to getting back home."
The defence, not the scorers, were the story this year. Canada scored just 17 goals in six games - seven by defencemen - but it allowed only three, an incredible record of stinginess.
"Our defence was solid," said captain Sidney Crosby. "They're so good at skating their way out of trouble that we didn’t have to play in our own end, and with the guys we have offensively the more we can stay out of there the better chance we have of creating things."Continue reading
"For us to be able to execute on the biggest stage, I thought we were dominant," Babcock said of his team's overall performance in Sochi. "I thought we were great. We had numerous opportunities and the other teams’ goalies had to be great."
At the other end, Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist, 2006 champion, never looked comfortable or settled all night in his crease, and his teammates played listless and uninspired hockey in front of him.
"They played at a higher tempo, and they had control of the puck," acknowledged Sweden's coach Par Marts. "They had so many breakouts, I couldn’t count them. You can’t play that way against Canada. Canada was much, much better this day."
"It feels great," said Patrick Sharp. "It’s an honour to wear the jersey and have a gold medal around my neck. It’s pretty cool. I can’t wait to bring it home to my hometown of Thunder Bay."
Canada has achieved an unprecedented triple double, as the men and women have now won three of the last four Olympic gold medals in tandem (2002, 2010, 2014).
Canada also becomes the first nation since the Soviet Union in 1988 to repeat as champions and has won Olympic gold on European ice for the first time since 1952.
"We weren’t sitting in a shell," general manager Steve Yzerman noted. "Part of our defence was forechecking and being aggressive. It’s the most impressive, the greatest display of defensive hockey. You’ve heard Mike say for two years now: 'We’re going to play a 200-foot game.' And we were able to do that."
And the NHL referees? Spectacular in their invisibility. End of story.
"It was a whole team effort," defenceman Drew Doughty added. "A lot of people are going to say, ‘The goalie played unbelievable,’ or, ‘The defence played unbelievable.’ But the forwards were a huge advantage in the defensive end of the game. They backchecked so hard, as hard as they could to get back in position. They didn’t give the defencemen or their down-low centre anything. That was the biggest part."
The first period was dominated by Canada, but not because it had the lion’s share of the scoring chances but rather because it played perfect positional hockey, taking time away from Sweden on offence and controlling the puck inside the Swedish end for lengthy periods.
The Swedes, however, had the first great chance to score when Gustav Nyquist came out of the corner and snuck a shot between Price’s pads. The puck bounced off the far post and behind the goalie, but Price reached back and covered up without any damage being done.
"We hit a post in the beginning of the period. If that goes in, it’s a different game, probably," suggested Henrik Tallinder.
Canada over-passed much of the period, trying to set up linemates rather than take the simple shot. Lundqvist looked nervous in the Sweden crease and didn’t look comfortable on many shots. He was beaten cleanly by a routine snapshot from Patrice Bergeron, but that puck also hit the post and stayed out.
The Canadians got on the board in a most incredible parallel to Vancouver four years ago. In that gold-medal game, Jonathan Toews opened the scoring at 12:50 of the first period. Tonight, he again opened the scoring - at 12:55 - his first of the tournament.
Jeff Carter had the puck in the corner and fired a pass to the top of the crease where Toews redirected it past Lundqvist for a 1-0 Canada lead. Patrick Berglund was too casual on the check, allowing Toews the chance to get his stick on the ice.
The tricky part about a 1-0 lead is that even if a team is playing well, its opponent is only one shot away from tying the game. And although Canada had the upper hand, Sweden was perfectly capable of coming back. Canada, though, was relentless, and late in the period the inevitable happened.
Crosby stripped Jonathan Ericsson of the puck as the Swedish defenceman barreled too casually over the Canadian blue line. Crosby took the puck the length of the ice with five Swedes in pursuit, but he backhanded a shot into the far side after a deke sent Lundqvist to the ice.
It was Crosby’s first goal of these Olympics and could not have come at a more fortuitous time given the precariousness of the one-goal game.
"Johnny got a huge goal there for us to start us off," noted Chicago Blackhawks teammate Duncan Keith. "It was definitely a good feeling. Obviously Crosby finished one too to give us a touch of breathing room. I think that’s what great players do. They try to elevate their game."
Canada nearly went up 3-0 early in the third when Drew Doughty's point shot hit the post. Although the puck stayed out, Canada continued to keep the puck in Sweden's end for long stretches, giving Tre Kronor no time or room to mount a sustained attack.
Chris Kunitz made it 3-0 by scooping up a loose puck in centre ice after a giveaway by Daniel Sedin and drilling a long, high shot over Lundqvist's glove. It was not a good goal to give up and further showed the goalie's lack of comfort in the crease today.
The clock ticked down, Canada rolled line after line, and the Swedes seemed powerless. Shots in the final period were 13-4 for Canada.
At the end of the game, the puck in Sweden's end, Lundqvist gently curled the puck into the Canadian end. After a couple of minutes, Jeff Carter finally noticed it and picked it up, a memento from a game so perfect it came with gold.