SOCHI, Russia – The opening days of the Sochi 2014 Olympics hockey tournament belonged to the Russians, rock stars on their home soil, the Sons of the Red Machine, from whom so much was expected and so little delivered. After Russia flamed out, it belonged, if briefly, to the ascendant and confident United States team, which breezed through the preliminary round at a dizzying clip before crashing and burning. Plucky Slovenia and steady Finland had their moments as well.
But in the end, Olympic hockey belonged to the same outfit it belonged to four years ago, the same country the sport has belonged to, at least in an ancestral sense, since its invention. It belonged to the red-sweatered men of Team Canada, who traveled thousands of miles to defend the title it won on its own home soil in 2010 and succeeded spectacularly.
In a thorough 3-0 win over an undermanned Sweden squad in Sunday’s gold-medal game, the Canadians put the finishing touches on an exemplary, two-week hockey clinic that, other than the final result, bore almost no resemblance to the one they put on in Vancouver four years earlier.
In Vancouver, the Canadians steamrolled opponents on sheer offensive firepower, outscoring opponents by an aggregate score of 35-16. In Sochi, however, defense ruled the day: Canada scored just 16 goals in its six games, but allowed just three. Of the five Winter Olympics that have featured NHL players, Canada has won the gold in three.
A pair of long-time-coming goals by Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby, Canadian stars who had been held without a goal in the tournament to that point, gave Canada a 2-0 lead after two periods. Toews’s tally came in the first period on a deflection of a perfect pass through the crease by Jeff Carter, while Crosby’s, in the second, was vintage Crosby – take the puck away from a Swede at the far blue line, outrace three pursuers and backhand it past Henrik Lundqvist for the score.
By the time Chris Kunitz scored for Canada in the third period to make it 3-0, the game was safely over, given the stinginess of its defense in this tournament.
The Bolshoy Ice Dome, which was so deafening and lively during Team Russia’s games, was eerily quiet for much of the game, apparently full of mostly Russian fans who bought tickets in anticipation of Russia’s hoped-for appearance in the gold medal game. The loudest cheer of the day may have come when the public-address announcer congratulated the Russian bobsled team for a gold medal earlier in the day.
Sweden’s forward lines, already reconfigured by the losses of centers Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg to injures, had to absorb another blow, when Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals, who had been centering the Swedes’ No. 2 line, was scratched just before game-time after reportedly failing a drug test. According to Yahoo! Sports, Backstrom tested positive after using an allergy medication that may have contained pseudoephedrine, a banned substance.
Second intermission update: Sidney Crosby’s first goal of the Sochi 2014 Olympic hockey tournament has pushed Team Canada’s lead to 2-0 over Sweden in the gold medal game. Crosby’s breakaway goal came at 15:43 of the period, when he stole the puck from Sweden’s Jimmie Ericsson at the far blue line, outskated three Swedes in pursuit and went to the backhand to beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
The Canadians have been relentless in attacking Lundqvist, and after thoroughly outplaying the Swedes in the second period, they sit 20 minutes away from winning back-to-back Olympic golds.
Second period update: With 4:17 left in the period, Sidney Crosby scored his first goal of the Sochi Games on a breakaway to give the Canadians a 2-0 lead.
First intermission update: Team Canada has taken a 1-0 lead over Sweden after one period in the gold medal game of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, on a deflection in front by Jonathan Toews, who redirected a Jeff Carter pass from the right side past Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
The goal was the first of the tournament for Toews, who has 19 this NHL season for the Chicago Blackhawks. Now playing its sixth game of the tournament, Canada has yet to trail in a game.
The Canadians have done an excellent job attacking Lundqvist, from the first shift of the Sidney Crosby line, when Crosby fed Patrice Bergeron on a two-on-one rush, only to be denied by Lundqvist. Later in the period, Bergeron hit the left post on another shot.
Before the game, Nicklas Backstrom, the Swedes’ No. 2 center, was scratched due to a migraine headache, something he has dealt with at times during his career.
Pregame: For all the pre-tournament talk of Team Russia’s enormous expectations and Team USA’s ascendancy, the Sochi 2014 Olympics gold medal hockey game got the match-up most experts would have predicted at tournament’s start: Canada versus Sweden, the teams that have combined to win four of the past five Olympic golds.
Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist are in goal for Canada and Sweden, respectively. Both teams are unbeaten in the Olympics tournament, with Sweden having beaten the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Latvia, Slovenia and Finland, and Canada having beaten Norway, Austria, Finland, Latvia and the U.S.
Sweden’s Nicklas Backstrom was a late scratch from the game because of migraines. Backstrom has had a history of migraine issues with the Washington Capitals.
Sweden was already without centers Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg because of injuries.