When all was said and done, two-thirds of the Olympic hockey podium in Turin was taken up by Canadiens with Saku Koivu leading Finland to silver and Jan Bulis winning bronze with the Czech Republic.
It certainly wasn't the way Koivu wanted to cap off his two-week trip to Turin, but his undefeated Finns came up just short in the gold medal final on Sunday morning as Sweden escaped with a 3-2 victory. It marked an unfortunate end to an incredible run for Finland, who rolled into the gold medal game with a perfect 7-0 record, including impressive shutout victories over both Canada and Russia.
The loss to the Swedes in Turin was deja-vu for Koivu and the Finns, who also had to settle for runner-up honors at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey after coming within inches of defeating Team Canada in the final.
Koivu and sidekicks Teemu Selanne and Jere Lehtinen did all they could with the three longtime linemates being among the tournament's top five scorers, led by Koivu and Selanne who ended up 1-2 with 11 points apiece. With three goals and eight assists, Koivu picked up where he left off in 1998, when he and Selanne also co-led the tourney in Nagano with 10 points each.
Finland dominated the Turin all-star squad with Koivu and Selanne being joined by defenseman Kimmo Timonen and standout goalie Antero Niitymaki on a list rounded out by Russia's Alexander Ovechkin and Sweden's Nicklas Lidstrom.
Saku Koivu and the Finns came out on top over Jan Bulis and the Czechs, as Finland won 4-2 in the preliminary round matchup between the two countries.
The Finns have now reached the Olympic podium each time Koivu has been in their lineup. After leading Finland to bronze medals in both 1994 and 1998, the Finnish captain can now add a silver medal to his collection.
Despite having just led Finland to its highest podium finish since the Finns brought home their only other silver medal from Calgary in 1988, Koivu's value to the Finnish hockey cause actually reached its peak at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. With Koivu still battling his way back from cancer, the Finns were forced to soldier on without their captain and Koivu's absence was glaring. Finland clawed their way to the quarterfinals where they had their podium hopes dashed by Canada.
Following the devastating loss of Dominik Hasek in their opening game of the tournament, Jan Bulis and Czechs refused to go quietly. After fighting their way to the bronze medal game, the Czech contingent surprised many by blanking Alex Kovalev and the Russians 3-0 to earn their spot on the podium.
Bulis, unlike most of his fellow hockey Olympians, had never worn the colors of his native Czech Republic at any event from the World Championships and World Cup, to even the World Junior Hockey Championships. Bulis will certainly never forget his international hockey debut, with his bronze souvenir serving as a shining reminder of his memorable trip to Turin.
On the heels of playing eight games in 11 and 12 days respectively, Bulis and Koivu will now return to the Canadiens with medals around their necks as they begin the final leg of the NHL regular season Tuesday in New York against the Islanders.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com