SOCHI, Russia — From the start of the Olympics, coach Mike Babcock said Team Canada had to be equal to this great opportunity.
When the opportunity was the greatest, the best players delivered.
Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby scored the first two goals Sunday to give Canada a 3-0 victory over Sweden in the men’s hockey final at the Sochi Olympics.
Controversial roster pick Chris Kunitz added some insurance in another dominant performance by the undefeated Canadians, who captured their second straight gold medal.
“I think just regardless of what happened in the prior games, this game was the biggest one and we all knew that,” Crosby said. “Regardless if I scored that or not, we all wanted to make sure we did our part.”
Toews and Crosby did their part all over the ice throughout the tournament, yet neither had a goal until the final. They were flying against Sweden and were rewarded.
“You get these opportunities and you just try and seize every one of them,” said Toews. “It’s a great team that we had in this tournament. It’s an amazing feeling to be a part of a team like that whether your role was big or small.”
Again against Sweden, Canada followed the same defensive model that was successful in victories over Norway, Austria, Finland, Latvia and the United States. Crosby knew that if he and his teammates could duplicate the effort from their 1-0 semifinal win over the Americans against the Swedes it would lead to success.
It did, producing the first back-to-back gold medals for any nation since NHL players began participating in the Olympics in 1998 and the first for Canada since 1948 and 1952.
It’s also the biggest win for a Canadian team in Russia since the 1972 Summit Series.
“No matter where this game would be played, I think you get up for it,” Crosby said. “But obviously we all know being Canadian the amount of history with Canada/Russia.”
Russia flamed out in the quarter-finals, while Canada ran roughshod over opponents and never trailed in the tournament.
“It says that our goalie is pretty good — both our goalies — and our defence is pretty good,” centre Ryan Getzlaf said.
It was pretty good Sunday, too, limiting Sweden to 24 shots and not nearly that many scoring chances. Carey Price got his second straight shutout and finished the Olympics with 123 saves on 126 shots.
As good as Price was, Canada’s defence was what had Swedish coach Par Marts in awe.
“I think they played at a higher tempo,” Marts said. “Canada was much, much better this day.”
That started with Toews, who scored Canada’s first goal 12:55 into the first, and Crosby, who scored what Marts considered the back-breaker on a breakaway on Henrik Lundqvist 15:43 into the second.
“They’re leaders for a reason,” Canadian forward Jeff Carter said of Toews and Crosby. “They brought it every night.”
The game lacked the drama of Canada’s 3-2 overtime win over the United States to win gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but Crosby wasn’t complaining.
“It’s hard to compare the two (gold medals),” Crosby said. “Not quite as dramatic, obviously. Just real solid all the way through. We saw the way we wanted to play and the last couple games we were solid. But I think with each game we seemed to kind of build more and more confidence.”
Crosby was asked about what’s happening back home in Canada.
“Hopefully a big party,” he replied.
Canada’s defensive dominance continued against Sweden, which was without first-line centre Nicklas Backstrom, a late scratch due to a positive drug test. Captain Niklas Kronwall said Swedish players found out about Backstrom just before the start of the game.
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.
“You always feel like the one mistake you can make can end up in your net, but I think that desperation and the work ethic that everyone played with was what allowed us to put up that type of effort,” Crosby said. “Right from goaltending all the way out, we didn’t give up a whole lot.”
Goaltending and defence were a big part of that, said Crosby.
“They skated their way out of trouble a lot,” he said. “But I think just as a group everyone was committed. It would’ve been easy to kind of feel the pressure of not scoring as much and try to force things, and that’s probably when we’d end up in big trouble. We stuck with it and knew what we had to knew and knew how we had to win.”
Canada outscored its opponents 17-3.
“Canada is the best team at this tournament,” Marts said.
It was the line of Patrick Marleau, Carter and Toews that has been together the longest that got Canada on the board Sunday.
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.
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 when he poked the puck away from Ericsson at Canada’s blue-line and blew 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.
“They played unbelievable defence,” said Swedish defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
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.
Eleven players, including backup goaltender Roberto Luongo, won gold for the second straight Olympics. Crosby, Toews, Rick Nash, Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Marleau, Patrice 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 Jamie 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.