SOCHI -- Sweden's task of toppling Canada already was a giant one without world-class centers Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg, but losing the services of Nicklas Backstrom right before the gold-medal game Sunday at Bolshoy Ice Dome made the job even more difficult.
After about 10 minutes of even play Canada controlled the contest and claimed gold with a dominant performance. The Swedes, without their top three centers, struggled to generate offense in the final 50 minutes and were overwhelmed by Canada's depth, particularly down the middle.
Backstrom was suspended for the game by the International Olympic Committee for a doping-control violation, Sweden general manager Tommy Boustedt said. Swedish team doctor Bjorn Waldeback said the positive test was for an elevated level of pseudoephedrine, a substance found in the allergy medication Backstrom takes.
"I think if we are going to compete with Canada we need all of our best players here and that didn't happen," Sweden coach Par Marts said. "We had some injuries, and of course Backstrom, that happened with him and of course that affected us. We are only human beings sitting in there."
Without Sedin and Zetterberg, Backstrom had assumed the role of No. 1 center, playing between Daniel Sedin and Loui Eriksson. Patrik Berglund moved up to the second line and Marcus Johansson went from being an extra forward to the middle of the third line.
When Backstrom wasn't available Marts inserted Jimmie Ericsson onto the top line for the first period before moving Johansson there in the second period and then Alexander Steen for a few shifts in the third as the team searched for more offense.
Marts said he took Ericsson off the line because he was losing too many faceoffs. Puck possession always was going to be a key in this game, and from about the 10-minute mark of the opening period on, Canada took control in that department.
"It's really hard. It is what it is though. We should be able to play much better than this," Berglund said. "They're a very good team. We turned the puck over in the wrong spots on the first two goals and that makes it tough. "
Sweden had a couple of strong chances early in the game, but otherwise Canada goaltender Carey Price did not have a lot of work, especially in the final 20 minutes when the Canadians were protecting leads of two and then three goals. The best chance came when Gustav Nyquist took the puck to the net and was able to tuck it past Price, but it ticked off the far post and the goaltender was able to cover it behind him before it crossed the goal line.
"They won the key battles [Sunday]. We weren't strong enough on those battles," Eriksson said. "I think it would be different if we scored the first one. We had one off the post that almost [went] in, but I don't think we were at our best level [Sunday]."
Marts added simply, "You have to score the first goal and they won't let us."
For Backstrom it was a devastating ending to what had been a fantastic trip to Sochi. He had four assists and led the team's centers in ice time prior to the gold-medal game. He was getting ready for the game with his teammates when he learned he had to attend a hearing two hours before the game was scheduled to start.
"I want to say I have absolutely nothing to hide," Backstrom said. "I have allergy problems. I've taken Zyrtec-D for many years. It was a little shocking to me, to be honest with you, but at the same time I am here right now and I've got to deal with it. I feel like I haven't done anything differently than the last seven years and I've been playing internationally for the last seven years and lots of games, and haven't seen this before."
Backstrom said he was administered the test Wednesday after Sweden's quarterfinal victory against Slovenia. Boustedt and Marts were furious about the timing of the decision, and Mark Aubry, the Chief Medical Officer of the International Ice Hockey Federation, called Backstrom "an innocent victim" on several occasions during a press conference after the game.
"I'm going to speak from my heart now. I was watching the game at the [Olympic] Village," Backstrom said. "I've been here for two weeks now and [it is] probably the most fun I've ever had. I mean, great group of guys and I was ready to play probably the biggest game of my career and two-and-a-half hours before the game I got pulled aside. That is sad."