SOCHI, Russia – Team Canada’s best players brought their best game and left with gold.
On the world’s biggest stage, Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby made good on their strong tournaments and controversial roster pick Chris Kunitz sealed the victory as Canada won its second straight Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey with a 3-0 win over Sweden on Sunday.
Canada did not trail at any point in the final or over the course of the entire tournament and finished as the first undefeated gold medallist since the Soviet Union in 1984 in Sarajevo, beating Norway, Austria, Finland, Latvia, the United States and Sweden along the way.
Until Sunday, Toews and Crosby were two of Canada’s best players through the first five games but did not have a goal to show for it. Canadian coach Mike Babcock brushed off concerns about a lack of offence from his forwards, figuring they would come but hoping the stars wouldn’t “run out of time.”
“They’re leaders for a reason,” Canadian forward Jeff Carter said of Toews and Crosby. “They brought it every night.”
Toews, who opened the scoring with a deflection in the first period, and Crosby, who beat Henrik Lundqvist on a breakaway in the second, delivered just in time. Putting up two goals meant Sweden would have had to score as many goals in the third period as Canada gave up in its first five games of the Olympics.
That defensive dominance continued against Sweden, which was without first-line centre Nicklas Backstrom, a late scratch due to a positive drug test. NHL stars accustomed to more offensive roles continued to display the kind of hard-working defensive intensity Babcock needed out of them, limiting Sweden’s scoring chances in the process.
Goaltender Carey Price made 24 saves for his second straight shutout to cap off his impressive tournament in which he allowed just three goals in five starts.
“Our defence was great the whole tournament,” said Canadian forward Patrick Marleau. “The goalie was spectacular.”
Some members of the Canadian team smiled and hugged as the waited to be awarded their gold medals, but the players seemed as businesslike as they did on the ice throughout the tournament.
Injured forward John Tavares wore a shirt and tie under his Canada jersey as he had his medal hung around his neck. Tavares was hurt in Canada’s 2-1 quarter-final win over Latvia and will miss the rest of the NHL season with the New York Islanders.
Sweden’s players were largely stone-faced as they received their silvers, as if they had come to terms with the result before the final whistle.
By beating Sweden, Canada became the first back-to-back gold-medal winner since the NHL began sending its players in 1998. It was the first time Canada won gold in two straight Games since 1948 and 1952.
And this didn’t take a fortunate bounce
Quality chances came fast and furious in the game’s first few minutes. Crosby generated the first one 57 seconds in when he batted the puck down and found Patrice Bergeron for a shot from between the circles that Lundqvist got in front of.
Canada’s Jamie Benn and Sweden’s Niklas Kronwall traded shots before Bergeron picked off a pass from Johnny Oduya three minutes in and shot it right into Lundqvist.
Sweden’s best chance of the first period was a minute later, when Gustav Nyquist’s shot from close range hit the left post behind Price. Canada’s starter looked behind him to see the puck inches from the goal line before covering it up.
Bergeron continued his tremendous start by shooting off the shaft of Lundqvist’s stick and hitting the post 11 minutes in. That helped Canada turn the tide after being on the receiving end for a handful of shifts.
It was the line of Marleau, Carter and Toews that has been together the longest that got Canada on the board at the 12:55 mark.
Carter skated down the right wing almost to the goal-line and found Toews streaking to the net. Able to keep his stick free from Patrik Berglund, Toews got it on the puck and deflected it off the inside of Lundqvist’s right pad and in.
With Martin St. Louis inserted onto the fourth line in place of Patrick Sharp, Canada generated a couple of scoring chances and got a power play after Matt Duchene drew a penalty on Swedish defenceman Jonathan Ericsson. Unable to score in those two minutes, Canada went on the kill late in the first into the second after a Kunitz high-sticking penalty and got the job done.
Canada had the lion’s share of chances throughout the second period, save for a couple of opportunities by Loui Eriksson and Erik Karlsson, who came into the day tied for the tournament lead in scoring. Karlsson also made a good stick check on Crosby to thwart the captain in open ice.
But Crosby wasn’t going to be denied at the 15:43 mark, when he poked the puck away from Ericsson at Canada’s blue-line and blew right by Alexander Steen to get a breakaway. Crosby had just enough time to think, go backhand and bank the puck off Lundqvist’s left pad an into the net.
It didn’t have the drama of Crosby beating Ryan Miller for the golden goal in Vancouver four years ago, but as he raised his arms in the air it looked like Canada couldn’t be beaten on this day.
Kunitz, who made the team because of his natural chemistry with Crosby, did it all by himself to provide Canada with breathing room. Kunitz took the puck away from Daniel Sedin, skated over the blue-line and beat Lundqvist clean at the 9:04 mark of the third period.
Because Canada gave up just three goals all tournament, that set off quite the celebration on the bench.
Eleven players, including backup goaltender Roberto Luongo, won gold for the second straight Olympics. Crosby, Toews, Rick Nash, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Marleau, Bergeron, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Drew Doughty got to celebrate twice.
Some of the biggest contributors in getting Canada to the final came from newcomers, including Carter and Benn. But two of the three goal-scorers against Sweden—Crosby and Toews—were the same ones who scored to beat the United States in Vancouver in 2010.
NOTES—With Backstrom out, Sweden inserted defenceman Henrik Tallinder into the lineup because it did not have an extra forward. The Swedes were already without captain Henrik Zetterberg because of a herniated disk. … Canada had no lineup surprises, scratching Tavares and healthy defenceman P.K. Subban along with third goaltender Mike Smith. … Brad Jacobs’ gold-medal-winning men’s curling team was among the 11,076 in attendance at Bolshoy Ice Dome and interviewed on the video screen at the first intermission.