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Sochi Olympics

Blame Canada: Their game, their gold again

  • Jonathan Toews of Canada (16) skates with the Canadian flag after the medals ceremony in the men's gold medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Canada won gold by defeating Sweden 3-0. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

    Jonathan Toews of Canada (16) skates with the Canadian flag after the medals ceremony in the men's gold medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Canada won gold by defeating Sweden 3-0. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

  • Sidney Crosby of Canada (87) is hugged as he leave the ice after Team Canada won the gold medal in the men's gold medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

    Sidney Crosby of Canada (87) is hugged as he leave the ice after Team Canada won the gold medal in the men's gold medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

  • Members of Team Canada pose for a photo with their gold medals after the gold medal men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Canada defeated Sweden 3-0 in the game. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

    Members of Team Canada pose for a photo with their gold medals after the gold medal men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Canada defeated Sweden 3-0 in the game. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Gustav Nyquist of Sweden (41) wipes his face after Team Sweden's 3-0 loss to Canada in the gold medal men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

    Gustav Nyquist of Sweden (41) wipes his face after Team Sweden's 3-0 loss to Canada in the gold medal men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Jonathan Toews of Canada (16) skates with the Canadian flag after the medals ceremony in the men's gold medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Canada won gold by defeating Sweden 3-0. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

    Jonathan Toews of Canada (16) skates with the Canadian flag after the medals ceremony in the men's gold medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Canada won gold by defeating Sweden 3-0. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

  • Jonathan Toews of Canada (16) skates with the Canadian flag after the medals ceremony in the men's gold medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Canada won gold by defeating Sweden 3-0. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
  • Sidney Crosby of Canada (87) is hugged as he leave the ice after Team Canada won the gold medal in the men's gold medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
  • Members of Team Canada pose for a photo with their gold medals after the gold medal men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Canada defeated Sweden 3-0 in the game. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
  • Gustav Nyquist of Sweden (41) wipes his face after Team Sweden's 3-0 loss to Canada in the gold medal men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
  • Jonathan Toews of Canada (16) skates with the Canadian flag after the medals ceremony in the men's gold medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Canada won gold by defeating Sweden 3-0. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

SOCHI, Russia – Blame Canada.

The creators of South Park had it exactly right.

Blame the Canadians for being bigger, stronger, faster, tougher, deeper, too in love with a game and maybe even too polite, to boot. They were so modest and so sneaky good carving their way through the bracket that somehow they lulled the rest of the hockey-playing world into believing it actually had a chance.

Sweden was the last domino to fall, but just like all the others, once the Swedes fell – 3-0 in yesterday’s gold medal game, though it easily could have been 5-0 and even worse – they fell hard. The Swedes started fast, but any realistic chance they had of winning disappeared almost as fast.

Sweden was playing with four of its best forwards sidelined by injuries, yet managed to build a 7-2 advantage in shots on goal a few minutes into the opening period. But once Canada tightened the screws on its forecheck, the Swedes couldn’t consistently carry the puck out of their own zone. They wound up playing dump-and-chase the rest of the

way, and all that did was buy them a few extra gulps of air between one Canada attack and the next.

The Canadians are the winningest nation ever in Olympic hockey, and now the only one to have three golds in the National Hockey League era, as well as the only one to have won gold back to back. There are a half-dozen other ways to measure the distance between the Great White North and everybody else, but here are two quick ones:

Leaving aside goalkeepers, how many players off the rosters of Sweden, Finland and the United States, the other semifinalists, could play for the only Big Red Machine still in operation? One or two, tops, and that would be on the second line. Russia, a quarterfinalist, boasted a half-dozen glamour guys, but the only one Canada would really covet is captain Pavel Datsyuk, and only because he plays unselfishly whether going forward or back – just like a Canadian.

Which brings us to No. 2.

Canada arrived at the gold-medal game without its two best forwards scoring even a single goal. Jonathan Toews is the best two-way forward in hockey, but until he deflected a pass from Jeff Carter past Swedish goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist seven minutes into the game, he contented himself by playing like the best defensive forward in the tournament. And you could almost say the same for Sidney Crosby.

Crosby is a perennial contender for the NHL scoring crown, as well as the unofficial title of “most creative attacker in the game.” But until he finally cracked the score sheet, Crosby simply kept hustling and backchecking like he was possessed. That became its own reward, finally, when he picked the pocket of defenseman Jonathan Ericsson just inside the Canadian blue line and zoomed away from the rest of the Swedes like they were wearing galoshes.

In the span of a few strides, it was down to Crosby and Lundqvist, one of the two or three best goalkeepers on the planet.

“The chances were there all tournament long and you just got to trust they’re going to go in,” Crosby said afterward. “Knowing it’s 1-0, you get a good chance, you want to put it in.”

“Sid the Kid” has been working on beating guys as good as Lundqvist nearly his entire life. As legend has it, Crosby banged so many practice shots off the laundry dryer in the basement of the family home that it bears more dimples than a golf ball and now resides permanently in the Nova Scotia Hall of Fame. He didn’t miss this time, either.

It’s worth remembering that Crosby had the game-winner in overtime in the gold medal game against the United States in Vancouver four years ago. That rare moment of vulnerability, like the few the Canadians let out of the bag in Sochi, was taken as proof that the rest of the world had caught up. Don’t believe a word of it.

What happened four years ago was a case of nerves. It was a team playing a game that unifies 30-plus million of their countrymen, many of whom still believe they’re good enough to don the same fabled red sweater – and a few who actually were, yet had to be left behind.

When these Olympics started, a lot of the smart money was on the home team, based less on the results of the past 20 years than the previous 40, when the original Big Red Machine burst on the scene, revolutionized the way the game was played, and challenged the Canadians to catch up.

But tradition is simply a measure of where you’ve been, not where you’re going next. It has to be renewed by one generation after the next, the way it is in Canada, where every kid who straps on a pair of skates loves the game so madly that it’s hard to imagine almost anything else mattering that much for the rest of your life.

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SOCHI, Russia – Sweden center Nicklas Backstrom watched from the athletes village as his teammates lost to Canada in the Olympic hockey gold medal game because he failed a doping test for a substance found in an allergy medication. “I was ready to play the biggest game of my career,” Backstrom said yesterday after the Canadians beat the Swedes, 3-0. … 0

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