The 2014 Winter Olympic men’s hockey tournament has provided a wide range of unexpected performances which have surprised viewers from the disappointment of the United States collapse in the semi-final to the competitive success of Slovenia and Latvia advancing to challenge higher seeds in the quarter-finals. But one thing remains constant in the international hockey world; the consistent success of the Canadian hockey team.
After struggling to dominate lesser foes in the preliminary round and then relying on a late third period goal to defeat Latvia in the quarter-finals, Canada rebounded with a 1-0 victory against the United States in the semi-finals and a goal medal victory against top-seed Sweden. The Canadians have done it again and while the path to get there was not as smooth as it has been in the path, the prize gained upon arrival at the destination was the same as it was in 2010.
Sweden came into the game as the top seed winning all of their games with relative ease, but doing so without some of the country’s top players. Before the tournament, Sweden learned Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen would not play due to injury. Sweden then lost captain Henrik Zetterberg after he suffered a back injury in the opening game, a 5-0 victory over Slovakia. Then right before the gold medal game, playmaker Nicklas Backstrom was scratched from the line-up due to a migraine headache and replaced by Henrik Tallinder. Despite this sudden setback, Sweden would be ready.
The game opened with a furious pace with goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist for Sweden and Carey Price for Canada trading save for save. Both goaltenders played key roles in propelling their teams to the deciding game of the tournament. But one would have to be the first to let in an opposing goal and it was Lundqvist as Canada lit their side of the scoreboard first nearly thirteen minutes into the game.
While down deep into the Swedish zone Jeff Carter found himself with some space along the boards to the right of the goal. He found Jonathan Toews in front of Lundqvist sending him a pass which the Canadian assistant captain tipped on goal. Somehow the puck snuck between Lundqvist’s pads and into the goal for the early 1-0 lead. In timing and tone, it mirrored the goal Toews scored in the 2010 gold medal game. It was the first goal of the Olympics for Toews and his third point.
While Canada seemed to have some life after their opening goal, Sweden continued to press with Price turning aside drive after drive. A penalty to Sweden on Jonathan Ericsson for holding yielded several chances for Canada, all of which stopped by Lundqvist. A late carry-over penalty to Canada on Kunitz for high-sticking with thirteen second left would aid Sweden in the next period. After one period, Canada led the game in shots 12-11, but it remained a very even game for both teams.
As the second period began, Sweden went on the power play and had several solid chances in close, but Price remained steady stopping each and keeping Canada confident. As the period wore on, both teams continued to trade chances, but it wasn’t until a mistake in the neutral zone that another goal was scored.
While pressing Canada at their blue line, Swedish defenseman Jonathan Ericsson could not contain a bouncing puck. That’s when Canada’s Sidney Crosby swung his stick at the puck knocking it down the ice and on front of him where he corralled it and raced toward the Swedish net. While in the clear, Crosby spend in puting the puck on his backhand and with Lundqvist down, slipped it just inside the right post along the ice to extend the lead to 2-0. It was a devastating mistake and further put Sweden in a hole it would have difficulty emerging from if it were to win.
A late boarding penalty to Patrik Berglund for boarding Chris Kunitz at the benches did not lead to an immediate goal, but would serve as motivation later. The second period ended with Canada outshooting Sweden again, this time 11-9 for a two-period total of 23-20. The Canadians with their 2-0 lead would look to finish a final twenty minutes to secure the gold medal.
As the third period began, Sweden increased their pressure to cut Canada’s lead taking a few more risks than they had earlier in the game. One such risk led to another Canadian goal. At the Swedish blue line, Chris Kunitz intercepted a pass and fired a drive which seemed to surprise Lundqvist as it soared over the goaltender’s right shoulder slipping just under the bar for the 3-0 lead. The game would end that way.
Canada led in shots in the final period 13-4 and for the game 36-24. Despite some of the hard ship along the way and difficulty handling lesser-seeded opponents, Canada never trailed in any game the entire tournament. Posting shutouts in their final two games, Canada came together to exhibit dominance when the games really mattered and take home gold for the second Olympics in a row.
The next Winter Olympics will be held in South Korea in February of 2018. It will be interesting to see if NHL players will participate.
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