Canada beats Sweden, 3-0, to win Olympic hockey gold

At the end of the line of Canadian conquerers, he waited his turn, just like he had all tournament. And when No. 87 was the only guy left to receive his gold medal, it was clear from the buzz in the building that the decision to put the players in numerical order had saved the best for last.

His thousands of countrymen and women in the Bolshoy Ice Dome didn’t whistle for anybody else. But Sidney Crosby was their captain, once a 16-year-old kid who carried the blessing of Wayne Gretzky and now a two-time Olympic champion who had skated so effortlessly toward his destiny throughout the past decade it was hard to believe he had even had to work to achieve it.

This was the Crosby they will remember in Canada — earlier, taking the puck from a Swedish player and breaking free, sliding it past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist on a pristine backhand deke to give his team a two-goal lead, and then, after Canada’s 3-0 victory, smiling regally and singing “O Canada” proudly with his right arm wrapped around teammate Jeff Carter.

This was the Crosby that Penguins fans hope to see again — relieved and reveling in a job finished to his particular satisfaction.

Because, you see, Crosby wants it all. Every piece of hardware, every medal, every trophy, every Cup. He is still just 26, and, coming off a serious concussion issue that threatened to take away the most crucial fibers of his being, there is no telling how much more he can accomplish.

Truly, could Canada have asked for a better face of this new era of hockey dominance? He wears it naturally, as if he were born with it out there in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, and maybe he was.

“Everything wasn’t perfectly set up for us as it was in Vancouver,” Crosby said. “We had to adjust to the ice and everything else. It feels great to be able to find a way to win.”

That’s the way he talks. He never lets you all the way in. It feels great … but why does it feel great? What’s unique about this great feeling, compared to all of the others, the 2009 Stanley Cup championship, the 2010 Olympic golden goal, the first time stepping onto the ice in the spring of 2012 after a concussion scare? He won’t overanalyze it.

The gold around his neck that says “Sochi 2014” felt great because it was earned outside of North America, on an international ice surface that’s wider and yet still hindered the best forwards in the world all tournament. Even with Crosby’s goal Sunday, six Hart Trophy winners (Crosby, Jaromir Jagr, Martin St. Louis, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Corey Perry) combined to score five goals.

The ice may be wider, but the attacking zones are smaller. On an NHL rink, the distance from the blue line to the net is 64 feet. On an international rink, it’s 58 feet, so players lose the length of the attacking zone while gaining width. In these Olympics, that has allowed the defensive team to pack the slot and turn what was once a fabulous display of offensive hockey into a glorified shot-blocking contest.

So Crosby did not have a goal in Canada’s first five victories.

“You wouldn’t have known whether he had 10 goals or no goals,” said Canada forward Matt Duchene, who trains with Crosby in the summer in Calgary. “He carries himself the same all the time. He’s our leader, and that’s what leaders do.”

Crosby and the rest of the Canadian forwards bought into Team Canada coach Mike Babcock’s plan. They also would shrink the zone defensively, but, because of their obscene talent, enough scoring chances would come. Jonathan Toews and Chris Kunitz, Crosby’s linemate in Pittsburgh, also were scoreless before Sunday but were able to find the net when it mattered most.

And then there was Crosby, suddenly on a breakaway and rushing toward the goal.

“I don’t think there was any doubt he was going to make that,” Duchene said. “He’s a big-game player. He’s the best player in the world.”

With his move, Crosby had Lundqvist spread out in front of the net, and it was only a matter of how he would flick the puck by him. Backhand.

“Regardless of what happened in the earlier games, this was the biggest one,” Crosby said. “We all wanted to make sure we did our part. To get a chance like that late in the second period, to know you can go up two, you want to make the most of it.

“I remember in Vancouver, I missed one with a couple minutes left, and they ended up tying it. It was nice to get that one and get a bit out of a cushion.”

Of course, Crosby left out the part about how he crushed American hearts minutes later in overtime of that 2010 affair. He’s not one to gloat.

To think that Crosby just became even more legendary in his homeland is tough to fathom. As Duchene spent time in the summer with Crosby in Calgary, he saw how his friend could not visit a public place without being mobbed.

But then again, that’s just life as Sidney Crosby.

“He can’t go anywhere,” Duchene said, “anywhere in the world. It’s pretty amazing.”

J. Brady McCollough: and on Twitter @BradyMcCollough. First Published February 23, 2014 11:55 AM

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