By Matt Calamia
The Gold Medal game in Sochi is set, as top-ranked Sweden will take on No. 3 Canada, the two most recent winners of Gold.
Will it be Henrik Lundqvist, Carl Hagelin and Sweden, or Rick Nash and Canada?
Sweden entered the tournament as an odds on favorite to bring home their second Gold since 2006, and thus far they haven’t given much reason for anyone to doubt them.
While they’ve made quick work of most of their opponents, what is most scary about the club is that they’re just heating up. Many have said they’ve had the easiest draw of the top teams, but their win over Finland was a statement game, despite it being just a one-goal victory.
Injuries have hurt Sweden, especially up front, and their offense has taken a hit. No forward has more than two goals — Hagelin is one of the players who has scored a pair — or five points, the latter being done by just Daniel Sedin. It’s been a group effort and one that must continue.
The offense has been led by defenseman Erik Karlsson, who at this point has to be a front-runner for tournament MVP. He’s notched four goals and four assists in the five games and is impressing every shift, as his speed has been a weapon on the large ice surface.
Defensively, just one player — Jonathan Ericsson — is a minus, proving that Sweden is winning games with stifling defense, thanks in large part to the man in net. Lundqvist has played all five games for Sweden and has allowed just six goals. That play has clearly given Sweden confidence to take chances in the offensive zone.
Many thought heading into the tournament that Canada’s offensive fire power would blow away the competition, but that hasn’t happened yet. In fact, players like Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Jonathan Toews and Corey Perry have been held without a goal.
Canada, like Sweden, have been led offensively by their blueline. Drew Doughty has four goals and two assists while Shea Weber has three goals and two assists. Both have been lethal dangerous on the power play.
Also like Sweden, Canada hasn’t given up much of anything defensively. In fact, they’ve allowed just three goals the entire tournament. Carey Price is playing out of this world, and if — for whatever reason — Price falters, Roberto Luongo is there as an insurance policy.
Canada has been hurt by injuries as well, but on paper, they still have more weapons than Sweden does right now. If they can get their offense to match their defense and goaltending, they’re going to be a tough team to beat.
Sweden, though, have showed they’re not intimidated by anyone and are comfortable playing any style.