-- Of all the players most under scrutiny going into Monday's gold-medal game at the 2009 World Junior Championship, none was being looked at closer than goaltender Dustin Tokarski
It was almost by acclimation that goaltending was the one place Sweden had a clear advantage. Tokarski had allowed nine goals on 55 shots in his last two games, while Sweden's Jacob Markstrom
, a 2008 second-round pick of the Florida Panthers
, is considered one of the best goaltenders in the Swedish Elite League at just 18 years old.
Monday night, though, it was Tokarski who played like the superstar netminder, nearly turning aside everything that came his way as Canada topped Sweden, 5-1, to complete its run to a fifth straight gold medal.
had two goals and an assist, P.K. Subban, Angelo Esposito
and Jordan Eberle
added goals and Canada killed off all seven Sweden power plays to win its 15th gold medal in the 32-year history of the elite under-20 international tournament.
Joakim Anderson scored Sweden's lone goal.
It's the second time Canada has won five straight WJC titles, following a run from 1993-97.
They wouldn't have gotten there this year without Tokarski. After subpar outings against the U.S. and Russia, he finished Monday with 39 saves on 40 shots, by far his best effort of the tournament.
"Look at the saves he made," said team captain Thomas Hickey
. "He stood up and made the perfect saves at the perfect times, and tonight he did it again. He was our best player tonight."
Tokarski said he had heard all the criticism about his play and was determined to do something about it.
"I got the wins, but I don't think I stole any games for my team in the tournament," he said. "There's definitely some critics out there who didn't believe in me. Hopefully I changed their minds after this performance."
Coach Pat Quinn
said not only was his goaltender strong, he said it was the best all-round defensive effort he saw from his team.
"Right from the start, he made the early stops for us," said Quinn. "Tonight he was good, handled all the dangerous plays, seeing the puck well. Our defensemen had their best game, and they were helped out by our forwards, who I thought had their best game, and that helps it all the way back to your net. When you're getting good defensive play in front, it helps the goaltender sort things out and make good decisions about his position."
Tokarski wasn't the only one in good position. Canada's penalty killers muted one of the strongest man-advantage teams in the tournament.
"We did a lot of video," said Hickey. "They throw a bunch of skilled guys out there, and for us it was recovering and using our sticks on their cross-ice stuff, then just trying to get our dumps when we could."
"We had to get into the shooting lanes, and Tokarski made some big saves," added forward Patrice Cormier
. "Dustin helped us a lot, made some big saves on the PK. We had some good pressure. They couldn't get into the neutral zone like they wanted. We worked hard."
The hard work started early, with Subban scoring a power-play goal just 38 seconds into the game. With Sweden's Mikael Backlund
off for roughing, Ryan Ellis
sent a pass down low to Hodgson, who wheeled in front and tried to stuff a puck past Markstrom. He was denied, but Subban jumped on the rebound and shot it in.
"They got the early power play when (John) Tavares fell in front of the net," said Markstrom. "They scored and got all the momentum and we couldn't get it back."
They also tried -- and succeeded -- in making Markstrom's night difficult. He was bumped and jostled all night, including one major collision with Esposito when Markstrom came out to play the puck.
Quinn accused Markstrom of diving to draw a call.
"I think he did the dead-man's float on the first one," said the coach -- but said that was the game plan.
"The scouting report we had on him is that he gets disturbed by traffic and gets too concerned by what's going on," said Quinn.
"He's a very good goalie, one of the best in the tournament," added Cormier. "We had to get some traffic to get some goals."
Esposito won a puck battle along the wall and flipped a backhander that beat Markstrom to the far side 4:02 into the second to make it 2-0. Then Sweden got the next four power plays, but did nothing with them.
Another penalty on Backlund at end of the second allowed Canada to start the third with the man advantage, and they wasted little time cashing in, as Hodgson used Anton Persson as a screen to score from the circle 33 seconds into the third.
The teams traded chances the rest of the way, with Andersson's goal coming on a great individual effort. He got around Tavares and went behind the Canada net, wheeled out in front and fired a shot that hit off Hickey and got past Tokarski 8:30 into the third.
"There's definitely some critics out there who didn't believe in me. Hopefully I changed their minds after this performance." -- Canada goalie Dustin Tokarski
But Tokarski slammed the door, Eberle and Hodgson added empty-net goals, and then the party was on.
"I almost passed out I was screaming so loud," said defenseman Tyler Myers
. "I was so happy. Just an unbelievable feeling, one I'll never forget."
"It's hard to put into words," added Hickey. "A little bit of relief. You're just proud to be Canadian. That's the biggest thing."
Quinn said in his 50 years of hockey as a player and coach, this was one of his greatest moments.
"There are a lot of proud kids in there that worked hard and deserved the good result they got," he said.
Canada will have the home-nation advantage in its quest for a sixth straight title when the 2010 event is held in Regina and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.