Sunday Olympic Points: Sweden-Canada Final

Bruce Bennett

Sweden faces Canada at 7 am EST (NBC)

The two best teams in this tournament square off in the gold-medal game. They are also the last two teams that won Olympic tournaments: Sweden in Torino in 2006 and Canada in Vancouver in 2010.

Sweden opened the Sochi hockey tournament and will close it as well. In that first game vs. Czech Republic, they jumped to a quick 4-0 lead and won comfortably, 4-2. In the next game they played a very different game against the defensively minded Swiss, squeaking by them on a Daniel Alfredsson rebound tip-in, and closed the round robin with a 5-3 win over Latvia, earning themselves a bye and a #1 seed for the quarterfinals. Somewhere in there they lost captain Henrik Zetterberg, who aggravated an existing back injury, for which he's already undergone surgery and will be out indefinitely. In the quarterfinals they dispatched in-way-over-their-heads Slovenia 4-0, followed by a 2-1 win over Finland, which was weakened by Rask not being available. All told, they played well on offense and defense, and Lundqvist's goaltending was, as always, a steadying influence. This is perhaps their biggest strength as a team - they know he's a rock out there and that allows their mobile defensemen to pitch in on offense. Erik Karlsson leads all defensemen in scoring so far in the tournament. The apparent benching of Oliver Ekman-Larsson was a surprise to see in the last game, and I haven't found out if it's related to an injury, bad play or he's the odd man out if they want to pair up their Blackhawks and Red Wings guys together. At any rate, they have more talent on the blue line than anyone. In the absence of Sedin, Franzen and Zetterberg, other have carried the load on offense. Their system is tailor-made for the big ice, with fast, fluid skaters who can blow you out or shut you down depending on what kind of game you'd rather play.

On the other side is a who's-who on team Canada. They had a fairly straightforward round robin, punctuated by wins over Norway, Austria, and Finland (in OT), and then Latvia 2-1 in the quarters and USA 1-0 in the semis. Most of the hand-wringing centered around Sidney Crosby's inability to score (2 assists in 5 games). The buyer's remorse on Kunitz is sky-high. They want, very badly, to take him back and pick someone else. Carey Price has been great, and most of the scoring has come from their blue line. Canada hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard, and they haven't needed to. Tomorrow is the first time they will play an ultra-fast and ultra-skilled team and they will need to find opportunities wherever they might be.

Prediction: Sweden. I've picked them a long time before the tournament opened, and I'm not gonna scuttle out now.

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