TURIN, Italy (AP) - The three crowns on Sweden's hockey sweaters are said to represent three great kings. Try convincing any fan they don't stand for hockey royalty: Forsberg, Sundin and Lidstrom.
Sweden's three biggest stars came through in its biggest game, with Nicklas Lidstrom scoring the game-winning goal 10 seconds into the third period on assists by Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg as it beat rival Finland 3-2 Sunday for the Olympic men's hockey gold medal.
"That was a great goal by three great guys," Sweden's Daniel Sedin said. "It was a good fit for it to come down to that. They've been an example to younger Swedish guys for a long time, so it's great to see them do it."
Three stars and three goals combined to make for one huge celebration in Sweden, which again established its on-ice superiority over its smaller neighbor. Finland had been unbeaten in seven Olympic games in Turin, playing near-perfect hockey, but again couldn't beat the team it wants to beat most.
"It's very disappointing. I think we played just a great tournament, so many big games, and I thought we deserve this," Finland's Olli Jokinen said.
The game winner came so quickly in the third, Finn goalie Antero Niittymaki almost didn't react. Forsberg, playing despite a severe groin injury that kept him out of the Philadelphia Flyers' last eight games, grabbed the puck off the faceoff and fed ahead to Sundin. His perfect-as-can-be drop pass to the blue line was one-timed by Lidstrom past Niittymaki.
"Mats laid it out for me. I tried to shoot high on the blocker side and I hit it perfectly," Lidstrom said.
Finland pressed for the tying goal after that, and nearly got it with 20 seconds remaining by Jokinen, who was stopped on a shot from along the left post. But New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, made a series of big saves in outplaying fellow NHL rookie Niittymaki, who had shut out three of his previous five opponents.
"It happened so quickly. I was able to get the puck toward the back door. But he robbed me, and made a nice save," Jokinen said. "That's what winning goalies are able to do."
After they won, the Swedes celebrated behind the Finn goal and Sundin and Forsberg grabbed Swedish flags and carried them around the ice. Forsberg joyously tossed both gloves into the crowd and several Swedish players cried during the medals ceremony.
"It's our national sport, so this is the greatest," Henrik Sedin said.
Sweden's second gold medal in four Olympics - it also won on Forsberg's shootout goal against Canada in 1994 - more than made up for its dreadful loss to Belarus in the 2002 quarterfinals.
"I was much more nervous this time," Forsberg said. "I was only 20 years old, and I didn't know how hard it was going to be to get back to the Olympic final. I think I appreciate this one more."
Unlike Finland, which outscored its opponents by 27-5 while winning its first seven games, Sweden was far from perfect in Turin. It lost to Russia 5-0 and also to Slovakia, when coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson caused a major stir by suggesting his team might chose to lose to set up a more favorable quarterfinals game against Switzerland.
Sweden also won in what likely was the final Olympics appearance for its major stars. Three Swedes played on both gold medal teams - Forsberg, Kenny Jonsson and Jorgen Jonsson. And Fredrik Modin became the 17th player to win a world, Olympics and Stanley Cup championship.
"I think this generation of players, we are getting older, and this is probably our last chance, so it's great," Sundin said.
Finland and Sweden have met in three world championship finals, the last eight years ago, but this was the first time the Nordic neighbors had played each other for an Olympic gold medal. That each was trying to win against its biggest rival only increased the pressure in a game that was expected to attract record TV audiences in each country.
Sweden has been more dominant on the world stage than Finland, winning seven world titles to the Finns' one, and is 2-1 in world championship finals.
"For some reason we didn't get the best game out of us today," Finland's Saku Koivu said. "Sweden is a better team and they handled it better."
Finland, as it has consistently done throughout the tournament, scored the opening goal. This time it was on Kimmo Timonen's slap shot from the blue line that flew through traffic in front of the net and deflected off Lundqvist's skate and into the net.
But the Finns lost some of that defensive discipline while taking four consecutive penalties during one stretch of the second period.
Sweden took advantage by scoring twice, with both goals by Detroit Red Wings players: Henrik Zetterberg slightly less than five minutes into the period and Niklas Kronwall eight minutes later. Kronwall joined the team before Friday's semifinals to replace the injured Mattias Ohlund.
Finland tied it at the 15-minute mark when Jussi Jokinen threaded a beautiful backhand pass through the crease and between defenseman Lidstrom's legs directly onto Ville Peltonen's stick. But Finland couldn't put any of its 10 shots in the third period past Lundqvist, who finished with 25 saves.
"You win the bronze, you win the gold, you lose the silver," Jokinen said. "Every hockey player wants to go out with a win."