Sunday, February 23, 2014
Canada defeated Sweden 3-0 to win gold at the Sochi Olympics, becoming the first country to win back-to-back gold medals since the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and have now won three of the last four golds in Olympic hockey.
Without Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg, and late scratch Nicklas Backstrom, the Swedes were going to be hard-pressed to score on a normal night. Against the smothering defence of Canada the task become near impossible. Canada limited Sweden to only 24 shots in total, a third of which came in the opening 10 minutes, and only four of which were allowed in the third period.
Breaking the puck out was treacherous, as the Swedish defence was met with waves of forecheckers, who forced multiple turnovers, including the one that led to Chris Kunitz's goal. If they could make it out of their own zone they had to cut through a wall in the neutral zone and along the Canadian blueline. The neutral zone was owned by Canada and led to many quick-counter opportunities. When Sweden did manage to gain entry in the offensive zone it was usually a one-and-done chance. Carey Price was strong in net and didn't allow many, if any, second chances.
Canada's ease at limiting chances in their own end and starting a quick transition north became a hallmark throughout the tournament. The vaunted US offence (who, in reality, failed to score an even-strength goal against any good team) was shutdown completely, much in the way the Swedes were, except they weren't missing any key players. It didn't matter. Canada was so totally committed to team defence that there just wasn't many opportunities for the opposition to score. There was one defensive breakdown—Latvia's breakaway goal in the quarter-final—and two deflections—one of which was on a power-play. That was all Canada allowed in six games. It was pure domination.
And for all the hand-wringing about Canada's lack of offence, the team proved the way to win on the big ice was through team defence.
"People were doubting whether we could score goals here in the tournament," Jonathan Toews told Elliotte Friedman after the game. "It's easy for a group like that to go press and create offence and get away from our game plan, but we stuck with it every single night and here we are atop of the podium."
All the concern about the lack of offence was a little misguided as well. Canada controlled the play in each of its games, peppering most goalies and forcing them to turn in career performances. They cycled the puck down low for what seemed like an eternity, wearing down the opposition with machine-like efficiency. The scoreboard didn't often reflect it, but the fact remains that this team was strong offensively as well.
Credit needs to be given to the coaching staff who recognized what was needed to win on the big ice and convinced the players to buy into the program completely. In the end, you can't even question the roster decisions—sticking with Chris Kuntiz, scratching P.K. Subban—because everything worked.
The stakes weren't as high as in Vancouver, and there wasn't a dream matchup against the United States or Russia in the final, but against the Swedes it was proved once again that Canada is the best.