Sidney Crosby skates past the net after scoring Canada’s second goal on Henrik Lundqvist. (YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - There was no golden goal for Sidney Crosby this time and given all he does, no real need.
There was however, the most eye-catching and timely score of the tournament for Team Canada.
Not that it was necessary, but the hero from the 2010 Games struck a rather sensational stroke of validation for the team’s offence with his big unassisted goal late in the second period.
The best part of Crosby’s timely strike: It showed no less than three elements of the sublime skill set that has elevated him to the status of the best player in the world.
Start with the steal at the Canadian blueline as he snagged the puck from Swedish defenceman Jonathan Ericsson. File that under that under smart (or stupid for Ericsson for trying to make a deke on Crosby at the blue-line with no help behind him.)
Then, from a near-standing start, the Canadian captain easily outsprinted Alex Steen and roared free on a breakaway. That’s the brute speed of Crosby, perhaps an underestimated part of his game but testament to his incredible lower-body strength.
And finally, the finish. A swift, deft deke to the backhand fooled Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist just enough to rebound the puck in off the Swedish star’s skate.
“First that was a good stick on the blueline,” Canadian defenceman Duncan Keith said. “We were kind of standing still then a great burst of speed from him.
“Obviously he’s beating a world-class goalie there. It was a nice play by Sid. I’ve seen that before. We all have.”
If you watched Crosby closely in this tournament, you watched a superstar at the top of his game. Defensively he was stellar. Offensively he was flying. And in one unassisted beauty that took fewer than 10 seconds to finish, Crosby clinched the gold.
“You get a big chance like that, you know it’s a 1-0 game, you want to make the most of those,” Crosby said. “I remember having a breakaway in Vancouver with a couple of minutes left, missing that one and (the U.S.) tie it up.
“It ended up working out OK, but you remember those things. So whenever you get those opportunities, you want to put them in.”
How clutch was the play? It gave Canada it’s first multi-goal lead since its second game of the tournament against weakling Austria. And it all but guaranteed the gold.
If there was a more dominant period between legitimate contenders in this tournament than Canada’s stranglehold in the second, these eyes didn’t see it. The Swedes had no answer for the strength and speed that came in waves. After Crosby’s goal, the life was sucked out of the Swedes and they may as well have headed for their charter at the second intermission ... When you first saw Marty St. Louis on the ice in the first period, your first reaction was that someone was injured. Turns out coach Mike Babcock was looking for a spark to counter the strong Swedish start. “That gave us a boost and changed the course of the game,” Team Canada’s general manager, Steve Yzerman, said. “I’m really happy for Marty.” ... The win was thick with historical accomplishments, including: 1. Canada becoming the team to repeat as Olympic champs since the Soviet Union did so in 1988. 2. First team to go undefeated in an Olympic tournament. 3. First time winning an Olympic gold outside of North American since 1952 ... Perhaps never before has there been a team that has better shown what team defence is. Forwards possessing the puck and forcing opponents into mistakes. Defence in shut-down mode and at the last line, stellar goaltending to back it up. But give Carey Price his due — in the last 164 minutes and 19 seconds of the tournament, he did not allow a goal. “Price was great, too,” defenceman Duncan Keith said. “He never bobbled any pucks. Every time it was a clean save, it just settles things down.” ... All the talk about finding a winger for Crosby? Who needs one when he can break free for an unassisted goal? That said, Patrice Bergeron had three excellent opportunities in the first period alone, including one that rang off the post.
Classic end to Babcock’s final press conference of the Games. Addressing the overdone theme of Canada’s struggles to score, the coach offered the following: “Does anybody know who won the scoring race? Does anybody care? Does anybody know who won the gold medal? See ya guys.” And with that, Babcock dashed off to join several of the players marching in the closing ceremony ... Same medal, perhaps, but a different setting and different circumstances. Forward Rick Nash, who had a strong tournament, summed it up rather well. “Vancouver was relief,” the big New York Rangers forward said. “Playing on home soil was such a big deal to win gold and we did. This time, we came into one of the most hostile environments for a Canadian — into Russia. And to win a gold medal in Russia is pretty special for Canadians.” ... So Canada allows three goals in the entire six-game tournament — two on tip-in deflections and the other on a breakaway that was the result of a defensive breakdown. And the latter was to Latvia, of all teams ... The Swedes were certainly down some men with the loss of Henrik Zetterberg, Henrik Sedin, Johan Franzen and then the scratch Sunday of Nicklas Backstrom for the positive drug test. Keith wasn’t buying it, however: “Yeah, well we lost a couple good players too in Stamkos and Tavares, don’t forget. Those two are pretty much top-five players back home and we weren’t playing with them. Both teams had a lot of depth ... Turns out the Swedes had a pretty good idea what they were in for, given the depth of the Canadians. “We thought that if we played a perfect game, we’d have a chance,” Swedish captain Niklas Kronwall said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t play a perfect game.” Not even close, actually.