By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) — Surprise, surprise. The best, deepest, most skilled, best coached team in the Olympic hockey tournament won the gold medal. Canada was impressive from start to finish, dispatching Team Sweden 3-0. Jonathan Toews scored the game winner in the first period, while Penguins teammates Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz added the insurance tallies.
Before the game, Team Sweden was informed they would be forced to play without their top centerman Nicklas Backstrom, who failed a drug test. The failed test was the result of an allergy medication that Backstrom had been taking daily for the last seven years. It’s tough to measure exactly what that meant to Sweden’s performance. Losing your top center moments before a gold medal game is certainly a psychological blow, but it’s hard to imagine the Swedes winning the game, even with Backstrom. Canada dictated play from start to finish. When Sweden did get their scoring chances, Carey Price made the stop and controlled rebounds.
Here are a few random thoughts on the gold medal game:
– There are a few people out there (I’m looking at you, Dan McNeil) who don’t quite understand why Toews is so loved and respected by fans, coaches and media alike. Sunday’s game was a perfect illustration of his game. Not only did he score the game winning goal, he made the right decision at every turn. His commitment to the two-way game is nothing new, but when you see him do it against top flight talent it really stands out. He was Canada’s best defensive forward for a team loaded with great defensive forwards. The cheer he received from the Sochi crowd was as loud as any other players’, and it should have been. Toews is a top 5 player in the NHL. This game was just another reminder of that fact.
With the win, Toews captures his second Olympic Gold Medal. Toews has also won two Stanley Cups, one Conn Smythe for playoff MVP, and Selke Trophy for the league’s top defensive forward. Toews has also won gold medals at the 2005 World U-17 Hockey Challenge, 2006 and 2007 World Junior Championships, and the 2007 World Championships. He settled for a silver medal at the 2008 World Championships. He’ll turn 26 this April.
– Throughout this tournament, I really enjoyed watching the three Blackhawks on Team Sweden. Marcus Kruger, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya were key players for the Swedes. There was a great moment in their semi-final game vs Finland. The Swedes were killing a 5-on-3 penalty. The three players on the ice were Kruger, Hjalmarsson and Oduya. Their chemistry was apparent throughout.
Late in the gold medal game, Johnny Oduya became the “odd man out” as Sweden’s coach Par Marts decided to take Oliver Ekman-Larsson off the bench in hopes of generating offense. Not to second guess Marts, but Ekman-Larsson should have been on the ice the entire game. Jonathan Ericsson was a total disaster, and his blunder led directly to Crosby’s goal, which put Canada up 2-0.
– Before the tournament began, I believed Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist was the best goalie in the NHL. This tournament solidified that opinion. I made a point of isolating on Lundqvist during Sunday’s game. Even when Canada was pelting him with shots and controlling the puck as if they were on the power play, Lundqvist’s calm and poise were impressive. He kept Sweden in the game and is a big reason that they made it to the gold medal game. The Swedes weren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut entering the tournament…then they lost Henrik Zetterberg to a back injury after their first game in the tournament. If not for Lundqvist, the Swedes could be flying home without a medal.
– Did anyone notice Toews not shake hands with Patrik Berglund in the hand shake line? Could it be that Toews hates the St. Louis Blues as much as we do? Maybe Toews was angry about Berglund’s dangerous board of Kunitz. It was probably nothing, but hey, it’s a chance to take a shot at the Blues.
– It’s no secret that before the games began, I wasn’t totally comfortable with the NHL players (or any Olympians) going to Sochi. There was a lot of intelligence pointing to a potential terror attack. Experts said the risk in these games were higher than ever before. I’m glad nothing happened, obviously. A lot of “I told you so” types have written me on the Facebooks and the Twitter machines. That’s fine, but think of it this way. If you jump off of a bridge and happen to not get hurt, it doesn’t mean it was the right decision to jump in the first place.
The hockey tournament was as great as expected. If it was the last time NHL players are allowed to play in the games, it will be fitting that Canada won. Unfortunately for the members of Team USA, if this is indeed their last chance, there will be a lot of regret about what might have been.