Three keys for Canada, Sweden in Olympic Final
SOCHI -- Daniel Alfredsson was in his first full season playing for the senior team at Frölunda in Sweden's top league and still a few months away from being drafted by the Ottawa Senators when his country met Canada in the gold medal game of the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics.
Sweden won that day in a shootout, with Peter Forsberg's one-handed goal immediately becoming an iconic moment in Olympic history.
"I was at home with my parents, watching on TV," Alfredsson said. "We were jumping up and down once [Tommy Salo] made the save on [Paul] Kariya."
Sweden and Canada have a large body of work against each other in international play, but not much at the highest level. The two countries have met twice at the Olympics with NHL-dominant rosters, but neither matchup came in an elimination game.
There was a meeting in the 1984 Canada Cup final and the semifinals of the 1991 Canada Cup and the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. But the level of Swedish hockey has improved since then, starting with Forsberg's generation and moving forward to the current group of players.
These are the past two Olympic champions, meaning Canada will either win gold for the third time in four tournaments or Sweden will prevail for the second time in three tries.
When they meet Sunday afternoon at Bolshoy Ice Dome, both sides will be looking for their Forsberg moment or perhaps to emulate Sidney Crosby, who scored the golden goal four years ago at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"That the Forsberg goal? Yes, I remember," Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "I was watching as a young kid, I think I was 12 years old. We all gathered around the TV and watched it. Very exciting finish – obviously a great goal by Forsberg. I don't think anyone's ever seen that goal up to that point, and now everybody tries to do it. It was a very fun game to watch, it was Olympic hockey at its best."
Here are three keys to the gold-medal game for Canada and Sweden:
1. Own the puck
The Canadians hammered the United States in the Olympic semifinals Friday by maintaining possession of the puck, demoralizing the American team slowly but surely as it spent shift after shift chasing the puck down in the defensive zone.
"Being first on the puck, keeping possession, back pressure in transition, these are things we talk about a lot," Canada forward Patrice Bergeron said. "If we want to create offense and have success in that end we need to have the puck. It's important."
Canada has outshot its opposition 205-105 in the tournament, but it is not likely to be quite that lopsided against Sweden, which also emphasizes a strong puck-possession game to create opportunities.
The team that manages to successfully maintain pressure in the offensive zone and implement its cycle game down low will probably win the game.
2. Neutralize Erik Karlsson
Easier said than done.
Karlsson has arguably been the most valuable player of the tournament, driving Sweden's offensive output with eight points on the team's 17 goals scored in five games.
Five of those points have come on the seven goals Sweden's top-ranked power play has scored. It's fair to say that if Canada can eliminate Karlsson as a threat it has a good chance of doing the same to Sweden's power play.
Canada's penalty kill has been extremely aggressive in allowing one goal on 14 chances, hounding the puck carrier into making quick decisions in the hopes of forcing mistakes. That won't change against Karlsson and the Swedes.
"For us, it's to keep them under pressure," Canada defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "The more time we give them the more effective they've been. If we can keep them away from setting up and making the plays that they want to [make] we'll be fine."
3. Keep Sweden's top six forwards off the board
The loss of Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg to injury has given Sweden a top-heavy group up front. After the top unit of Nicklas Backstrom, Daniel Sedin and Loui Eriksson and the second line of Patrik Berglund, Alexander Steen and Daniel Alfredsson, the talent and production drops off significantly.
The Backstrom line has combined for 12 points and Berglund's line has 11 in the tournament. The bottom two lines have combined for seven points thus far.
It is difficult to tag any of Canada's four forward lines with a label of first or fourth, it is a team that comes in waves and it matters little which trio is on the ice at any given time or situation.
That is not the case for Sweden.
If Canada can focus its defensive game on shutting down Sweden's top six forwards, the bottom six should pose little threat.
1. Own the middle
Canada has been a dominant defensive team, but for Sweden to win gold it still needs to think defense first. These have been the two best defensive teams in the tournament, but Canada still possesses an incredible array of offensive talent.
The Canadians are scoring on 6.83 percent of their shots, which would be low for an NHL team and is extremely light for a collection of world-class players. Those players, given the same number of scoring chances they've had in nearly every game of this tournament, are eventually going to start finishing them.
Instead of hoping Canada's luck doesn't turn, the Swedes need to limit their chances. Finland did an impressive job of keeping the Canadians from finding open space in the middle of the ice and Sweden will look to do the same.
"We know Canada hasn't scored much, but they're a dangerous team," Daniel Sedin said. "If you give them the chances, they're going to capitalize. We're going to try to play good defensively and hopefully get on the power play, because that's been good for us."
2. Power up
Speaking of the power play, Sweden has scored on 7 of 19 chances for a tournament-high 36.84 percent success rate. No other country has scored more than four goals with the man advantage.
Karlsson is a great weapon from the top of the zone on the power play and Sweden compliments him with an elite playmaker in Nicklas Backstrom and other potential shooters in Daniel Sedin and Alex Steen.
They will be facing the best collection of penalty killers in Sochi. Canada has yielded one goal while being shorthanded 14 times. Karlsson, who has made a strong case for tournament MVP honors, could be the key.
"When he's on, it's amazing," Alfredsson said. "Even when he's not, he's always been that fast that he can recover most of the time. When you look at him and you think he's only 23 years old, I think sometimes expectations are set too high and I hope he continues to evolve and try to be creative and set maybe new standards instead of just looking at 'I've got to cut down on my mistakes.' I think his offense more than weighs out the rare mistakes he makes."
3. Survive at center
Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price could provide a fantastic goaltending duel. Sweden's defense corps, even with Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Phoenix Coyotes on the bench and Tampa Bay Lightning star Victor Hedman not on the roster, is not far off their Canadian counterparts.
If there is one position where the Swedes don't match up well on paper it is at center. The quartet of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and Matt Duchene appear to have a significant advantage against Nicklas Backstrom, Patrik Berglund, Marcus Johansson and Marcus Kruger.
The Swedes need to keep the Canadians from dominating in the middle, and their team defense will be put to the test. It's not necessarily about offensive productions – Backstrom's four points are only three fewer than the four Canadians combined – but about not allowing players like Crosby and Toews to control the game and force the Swedes to spend amounts of time in their own zone.
"We want to have the puck as much as possible," captain Niklas Kronwall said. "If we can just take care of the puck well and not lose it too much in the neutral zone … because if you lose it too many times, they're going to capitalize on it. That's how good they are. So take care of the puck in all areas of the game."
Author: Arpon Basu and Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writers