Canada vs. Sweden: Battle for supremacy, and a gold medal, too
February 22, 2014 10:33 PM
Martin Rose/Getty Images
Sidney Crosby and his Canada teammates celebrate their 1-0 Olympic semifinal win Friday against the United States in Sochi, Russia.
By J. Brady McCollough / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
SOCHI, Russia -- How good has Team Canada been in these Olympics?
Well, for starters, it has given up just three goals in five games against some of the best competition in the world. Then there's this: The Canadians' best offensive player, captain Sidney Crosby, has not scored a goal, yet here they are once again on the cusp of a record ninth gold medal.
"It's real simple," Canada coach Mike Babcock said. "Sometimes, I think we get a little bit confused. It's not about who scores the goals or who blocks the shots or who plays. It's about winning. It's about Canada. It's about hockey supremacy. We like to brag that it's our game? If you think it's your game, you better show it's your game."
Ownership. That's what is always on the line for Team Canada when it takes the ice, and no other country can know what it's like to carry around that kind of weight. The Canadians live with the expectations every day, to the point that if they weren't feeling the immense pressure, they would miss it.
After muzzling their feisty American rivals in the semifinals Friday for a 1-0 victory, this group will have the chance to make a clear statement against Sweden today in the gold-medal game about who the big dog is on the international stage.
With a gold, the Canadians will have won back-to-back Olympics for the first time since 1948 and 1952. It has been a long while, with decades of Soviet dominance in between, and to reassert their dominance on Russian soil would only add to the fun.
"We know everybody's watching," Crosby said. "It's one game, winner take all, and you make sure that you're focused on everything that comes along with getting better and improving. We've brought our game up to where it needs to be. But we've got to find that one extra level here in the final."
No Canadian player will be watched more closely than Crosby, who somehow has not found the net despite a plethora of chances in Sochi. Teams have routinely clogged the middle of the ice, making it tough to find room for him to operate. He and his teammates have been content to possess the puck and patiently wait for openings.
In 2010, Crosby shined brightest in the gold-medal game, scoring the winning goal in overtime against the Americans and instantly becoming a legend in his homeland.
"Having gone through that," Crosby said, "knowing that the stakes are high, you want to be at your best. I think everybody understands that. The experience of having gone through that in Vancouver, in Canada where there's obviously a lot of pressure, you can feel it pretty quickly there, but hopefully that's something that helps us here."
The Swedes might not go as quietly as the Americans went in the semifinals. Even without injured star Henrik Zetterberg, Sweden has NHL firepower up and down the lineup and more experience than the Canadians making their game work on a wider international ice surface.
The Swedes (two) and Canadians (two) have won four of the past five Olympic tournaments, and today one will take the edge in the post-Soviet era of hockey.
"It's such a big game playing against the Americans," Canada defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "A lot of us are playing against our teammates [from the NHL]. Then you turn around and start watching a different team, and you start thinking this is the last game we're going to play together at the Olympics. You try to take as much of it in as possible. You want it to end the right way."
Said Canada forward Jonathan Toews: "We've got one more game to prove that we're still on top."
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