It was a dominant performance, one that capped what was (eventually) a dominant tournament for Team Canada.
Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, and Chris Kunitz all saved their best for last, with each scoring their first and only goals of the tournament in an overwhelming three-period effort against Team Sweden and (formerly) all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
B.C. boys Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, and Jamie Benn played key roles for Canada, with Benn playing alongside Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf on Canada’s Himalaya line. Although the line was scoreless on Sunday, Benn scored the winning goal in a 1-0 semifinal victory over the United States.
Anahim Lake’s Carey Price had shutouts in his final two hockey games, as Canada promptly held the elimination round’s top two seeds – that would surprisingly be the United States and Sweden – out of the crease and off the scoresheet.
“Playing behind that group of guys was a lot of fun,” Price told the CBC Sports’ Elliotte Friedman after the game. “That work ethic that those guys brought to the ice every day, that really made my job a lot easier.
“This was a lot of fun… this was a really cool life experience. I was really gonna enjoy this, no matter how the outcome.”
After six victories in six games, Latvia oddly turned out to be Canada’s biggest test. A 2-1 win in the quarterfinals was, at the time, a little disconcerting to maple syrupy fans, especially when the only Canadian goals came from the backend, from d-men Drew Doughty and Weber, and not from the stars like Crosby or John Tavares or some two-headed beast of Perry and Getzlaf.
Finland was a round robin test, pushing Canada out of regulation and forcing Doughty to score an overtime winner in the game’s extra frame – a goal that made it 2-1 – but Latvia was then the only team to score on Canada in the tournament’s elimination round.
Sweden also came into the gold medal game with a perfect record, having just knocked off Finland in an all-Scandinavian semifinal, 2-1. But the Swedes, who were already without injured Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin, were forced to drop their best player – centre Nicklas Backstrom – from the squad, after Backstrom failed a drug test, a result caused by his allergy medication.
(The Swedes have said they learnt of Backstrom’s fate two hours before the game, and that he had been taking that allergy medication for seven years.)
“The IOC has destroyed one of the great days in Swedish hockey history,” said Swedish coach Tommy Boustedt, post-game.
But still… let’s not distract from the maple leafy realty of the thing, which is that this Canadian team concluded on Sunday what was the most lopsided, sure, start-to-start performance of any national team since the NHL entered the Olympics in 1998.
The result – joyous as it may be for Canucks like myself or you – was a little boring with 20 minutes to play. A good boring. Let’s call it that.
Canada also leaves the Sochi Games as the only country to win three gold medals in hockey since Nagano, and the men’s victory gives the country double, gender-stacked golds in both Ice Hockey and Curling.
When they needed to be, the Canadians were individually excellent and also perfect as a team. Price had to make a couple saves against American snipers like Phil Kessel, Zach Parise, and Patrick Kane, but he made them and those chances were one and far between.
Canada clogged the neutral zone and rammed the creases of Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick, and the tournament really came down to two final, critical games. They played the sort of shutdown hockey other teams normally impose on them, and their offence was still ready to shred mesh when the time was right.
At no time was that more apparent than on Sunday when Crosby – the Canadian captain and unanimously anointed best player in the world who had been goal-less entering the gold medal game – stole the puck of Jonathan Ericsson outside the Canadian blue line and took off with tremendous 0-to-60 speed, bearing down on a breakway against Lundqvist, surging past the trailing Swedish back-checkers, and depositing a nifty backhand past the goalie’s wingspan.
It was Crosby’s first goal of the tournament – his first Olympic goal since his Golden Goal in 2010 – and it was the insurance, coming a period after Toews’s opener.
Crosby’s polarizing teammate Chris Kunitz, the guy who was both publicly mocked and also defenced, then added the 3-0 goal in the third, going bar-down on Lundqvist from the slot.
“I felt like they were a lot smarter with the puck,” Lundvqist told reporters after his silver medal win. “Felt like we gave them too many chances, we were losing the puck in the wrong areas, and they were quick to strike… Overall, they were just better today.”
On his silver medal?
“Ask me in a couple days. Right now, it feels awful.”