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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Sidney Crosby cranking up his game as Olympic gold medal showdown looms

Posted: 02/21/2014 3:43 PM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 02/21/2014 3:56 PM

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SOCHI, Russia - Sidney Crosby has some spring in his step as the Olympic hockey tournament heads to a gold medal showdown between Canada and Sweden.

The Canadian captain has yet to score and only has two assists in five games but he has been cranking up his play each game with linemates Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kunitz. And like the other Canadian forwards, they are taking care of business at both ends of the rink.

On Friday, the Pittsburgh star helped consign Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and the Americans to the bronze medal game against Finland with an impressive all-round showing in a hard-fought 1-0 semifinal win.

Crosby was hungry all night, his head on a swivel as he looked to present a pass to trailing teammates. He had four shots on goal — upping his tournament total to a modest 10 — including a nice run at the net that led to a backhand as he fended off a defender with one arm.

In one of the fastest hockey games you will ever see, the Crosby line was buzzing.

"I thought last game he was tremendous as well," said Bergeron. "But he's the best player in the world. I'm just happy and fortunate to be playing with him, trying to help him as much as I can."

In a tight Olympic hockey tournament, statistics can be misleading. The bar has been raised among the lesser teams, who play as a unit and emphasize defence.

Still, who would have thought that defencemen Drew Doughty and Shea Weber would total half of Canada's 14 goals in five games? Add in Jeff Carter and three players have accounted for 10 of those goals.

Unlike in the NHL, Crosby is not in the driver's seat here. He has his shoulder against the back of Team Canada, pushing with all his teammates.

Bergeron was immense Friday night, forechecking and dropping back into defensive position as needed. And Kunitz forced a wonderful save from Jonathan Quick and was a nuisance to American defenders.

The Crosby line combined for nine of Canada's 37 shots.

And while No. 87 is nowhere to be found on the tournament list of scoring leaders, Canadian coach Mike Babcock has his own Crosby gauge and it doesn't involve statistics.

"Everyone evaluates Sid on scoring and I evaluate Sid on winning," he said after the preliminary round game against Finland. "That’s what we came here for."

So far, so good. Canada has won five straight and never trailed.

Canada has looked to retain possession in the offensive end, with its big forwards applying pressure. With more space behind the goal, Crosby and fellow centre Jonathan Toews have helped that puck possession.

Forcing the U.S. offensive threats to play defence helped sap the American energy, said Crosby.

Canada's star-studded roster of millionaires is doing the dirty work here and Crosby is no exception.

"I think that guys trust the puck's going to go in and if it's not, they're trying to do the right things away from it," he said.

"I felt like we had lots of chances," Bergeron added. "But also not just chances. I thought we played hard all over the ice. Right now it's about helping with all the details."

Babcock approves.

"I think we've been good defensively the whole time," he said. "It's hard to get real good players to be as committed as our group is defensively.

"And yet we haven't scored. And yet no one seems to care. It doesn't matter. You just want to have an opportunity (to win). As you watch these other athletes at the Olympics compete and they've spent four years of their life (preparing), you know how important the Olympic Games are and you know, it doesn't matter about any individual success. It just matters about team."

Crosby's teammates know what their captain can do.

"He's been outstanding the whole tournament," said defenceman Alex Pietrangelo. "This is the first time I'm playing with him. He's had my number when we've played against him, so to finally be on the same team you can really appreciate what he's able to do out there and he really is a special player."

Crosby's overtime goal won Canada gold four years ago, but he's looking forward not back.

"We've got a great opportunity," he said. "I don't think Vancouver means anything right now as far as what we have to do in the next 48 hours. ...We're just trying to make sure that we've gotten better every game and hopefully we find our best here when it means the most."

Babcock sees room for improvement.

"Our mantra is get better today, let's get better every day. And we're just trying to take a step. For us, this was a good game today. We think we can be better."

Goals will come, he said.

"This team, let's be honest, we haven't scored," he said. "We've had unbelievable opportunities and still haven't finished. We're going to finish. We just hope we don't run out of time. ... When you look at all the other athletes, these medals are hard to come. You want to make good on your opportunities. "

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