Canada claims gold in Sochi
SOCHI, RUSSIA -- Victory. Vindication. Another gold medal.
Canada got it all Sunday at Bolshoy Ice Dome in a 3-0 victory against Sweden in the gold-medal game of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
For all the scrutinizing of the roster, and the analyzing and debating of the decisions made by coach Mike Babcock since the team arrived in Russia two weeks ago, Canada won its second straight gold medal and third in the past four Olympics without ever trailing in the tournament and giving up only three goals.
Babcock kept calling the team a work in progress, just like he did in 2010. He was right, again.
Canada is the first repeat gold-medal winner since the Soviet Union/Unified Team won three in a row from 1984-92. The Canadians have a record nine Olympic gold medals dating to 1920, and that includes a stretch of 50 years (1952-2002) without one.
Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby, both previous Olympic gold-medal winners and Stanley Cup champions, answered in the big moment, just as they have done their entire careers. Toews and Crosby scored their first goals of the tournament, and Carey Price came up with 24 more saves for his second straight shutout; it was the first in a gold-medal game since Dominik Hasek in 1998. Price also made 31 saves in a 1-0 win against the United States in the semifinals.
Chris Kunitz also scored his first Olympic goal midway through the third period.
Toews scored on a redirect from the slot to give Canada a 1-0 lead 12:55 into the first period. Crosby converted on a breakaway 15:43 into the second period to make it 2-0.
Toews and Crosby also scored in the gold-medal game at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Crosby, of course, had the overtime winner against the U.S.
Sweden was forced to play without center Nicklas Backstrom, who was a late scratch. Losing Backstrom meant the Swedes were without the country's top three centers.
A back injury caused Henrik Zetterberg to leave the team after the tournament opener and Henrik Sedin didn't make the trip to Sochi because of a rib injury.
Canada's forward depth, which came at the Swedes in waves, simply was too much to handle.
The Canadians dictated the pace of the game and won the middle of the ice. Sweden struggled to get first-chance opportunities, let alone second-chance opportunities. The Swedes had four shots on goal in the third period. They simply were overwhelmed by Canada's clinical execution.
Just as he did against the U.S. on Friday, Price had to make a couple of good saves but he wasn't tested nearly as much as Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist (33 saves).
Price did have some luck on his side early in the first period before Canada established the pace with which it wanted to play. Gustav Nyquist walked in from the right side and rang a close-in shot off the left post. The puck squirted behind Price and danced near the goal line before the Montreal Canadiens goalie contorted his body enough to cover the puck with his glove.
The iron helped Sweden a few minutes later when Canada's Patrice Bergeron rang a shot off the left post.
Crosby was taking some heat for not producing offensively in the tournament heading into the gold-medal game despite having and creating a rash of scoring chances in the previous five games. He was breathtaking from his first shift, when he set up Bergeron with a scoring chance that Lundqvist turned aside.
Crosby nearly had a breakaway earlier in the second period but Sweden defenceman Erik Karlsson closed on him fast to take away his space as he was trying to bear down on Lundqvist. The Swedes could not stop Crosby on his second breakaway opportunity.
He stole the puck from Jonathan Ericsson at the far blue line and went in alone on Lundqvist with Loui Eriksson and Alexander Steen chasing him. Crosby made a move to his backhand and put the puck in off of Lundqvist's outstretched left skate to give Canada a 2-0 lead.
Toews put the Canadians ahead 1-0 by establishing inside position on Patrik Berglund in the slot. Jeff Carter sent a hard pass from the lower part of the right circle to the middle that Toews was able to get a stick on, redirecting the puck past Lundqvist.
Kunitz's goal was merely icing on the gold -- another one for a nation which once again has cemented its status as the world's foremost hockey superpower.