After a wild up-and-down tournament that has seen countless incredible moments and more than a few upsets, the gold-medal game at the 2014 Sochi Olympics is finally upon us. It features two of the most talented rosters in the entire tournament as Sweden takes on Canada with the gold medal on the line.
Each team features specific strengths that helped them get it this far and will rely on those strengths to win one last game for gold.
Team Canada is going to need to do more of what it did Friday in its 1-0 win in the semifinals against the United States. Against the Americans, Canada played with more speed and more pace and attacked through the middle of the ice. The Canadians did all of that more against the U.S. than at any other point in the tournament. That adjustment was definitely reflected in the chances they had against Jonathan Quick, who was all-world as usual.
A big story for both these teams is going to be faceoffs. Sweden and Canada each had a large advantage in the faceoff circle in its semifinal win. That will help either team and will be a big part of the story in the gold-medal game, especially since they're playing on the big ice.
One other important thing for Team Canada is the need to maintain discipline. The Canadians can't go in thinking they have to rough up Sweden or be overly physical. They better not play that way, because Sweden's power play is clicking at around 36 percent in the tournament. Sweden can make teams pay on the power play, especially with defenseman Erik Karlsson, who has been awesome. I just love the way he is playing.
Of course, a big part of Sweden's success has been the play of their goaltender. As far as Henrik Lundqvist goes, I think Team Canada will have to get more traffic around him. They'll need more than they got in front of Quick. They'll also need more layers of traffic around the net. Look at the deflection goal Jamie Benn scored in the semifinals. The Canadians need to do more of that to win.
Sweden needs to continue its puck movement. It's been awesome the whole tournament, not only on goals, but also just on scoring opportunities and in creating transition. Keep in mind, this is the team that won the World Championship last spring, so they've been building up for this moment. The Swedes also need to continue to believe in themselves and play their game. They don't need to prove that they are a more physical team than Canada and all of a sudden start to take silly penalties. This is not a seven-game playoff series. This is a one-game showdown for gold. They just need to continue to play their game.
That Swedish attack will be challenged by a Canadian D that has been amazing. The Canadian defense has been great and Carey Price has definitely established himself. He's had games where he faced 16 shots, he's had games where he faced 31 shots. Regardless what the shot total has been, he's been sensational. When scouts and goalie coaches and general managers look at a model goalie, Carey Price is that guy right now. He's a five-tool guy. He's technically sound but also athletic. He can be a stay-at-home defenseman and also handles the puck as well as some defensemen in the NHL -- maybe even better than some of them. He also plays in a white-hot hockey market with the Montreal Canadiens, so you know he can handle the pressure.
Sweden's strength is its versatility. In their development of young players, the Swedes encourage playing both sides of the ice. Skill players in Sweden aren't going to be penalized for being skill players. They want players to play a 200-foot game like their captain, Henrik Zetterberg. One part of their game doesn't have to come at the expense of the other. That's a big part of the Swedish hockey system and how they are coached and developed. That is the Swedish philosophy.
When you watch their team play you can see it. Loui Eriksson is a 30-goal scorer, but he's also a guy who is very defensively conscious and aware in the neutral zone. Alexander Steen is a guy who does everything well. You can see it throughout their lineup.
In fact, go through either lineup and you won't find a single flaw. It's the main reason why the gold-medal game on Sunday could be one for the ages.