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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Two best teams at Olympics meet for gold medal as Canada plays Sweden

Posted: 02/22/2014 6:13 AM | Comments: 0

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SOCHI, Russia - Team Canada and Sweden meet for the gold medal in a matchup of the past two Olympic champions. And though there has been plenty of roster turnover in eight and even four years, it's a fitting final.

More so than the past, it's the right final because Canada and Sweden have been the two best teams in this tournament. Sure, the best game so far was the United States beating Russia in an eight-round shootout, and that won't be forgotten, but the Canadians and Swedes have put together the strongest bodies of work at these Olympics.

"It's the finals, so it's going to be the toughest game of the tournament," Swedish forward Daniel Sedin said. "They've been getting better each and every game like we have."

Canada and Sweden are each 5-0, so the gold-medal winner will be undefeated. But Canadian forward Patrick Sharp isn't picking favourites.

"I don't think at this point you can have a favourite," Sharp said. "I'm sure the fans and the media will have favourites and underdogs, but as a player I think both teams have respect for each other and what they can do. It's a single-elimination game, so it's going to be a fun one to play in, and I don't think you can pick a favourite."

On Friday night, Jeff Carter didn't have the same tact when asked who should be favoured.

"Are you really asking me that?" he said. "I think we're going to win."

Players from both sides believe that. Here's a look at how Canada and Sweden stack up:

CANADA VS. SWEDEN, 4 p.m. local, 7 a.m. Eastern

Offence — Sweden has scored 17 goals to Canada's 14 through five games, and more chemistry is developing between Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom and Loui Eriksson. Sweden's first line of Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund and Daniel Alfredsson is dangerous, as well. Where Canada has the advantage is a deeper lineup in that its fourth-liners are capable of breaking out and taking over a game. Sweden's Carl Hagelin has been very good, though, so that bottom six is not to be ignored. The two best offensive defencemen will be on display in the gold-medal game, as Sweden's Erik Karlsson faces Canada's Drew Doughty. With four goals and four assists, Karlsson was tied for the tournament lead in points before Phil Kessel played in the bronze-medal game for the United States, and the Ottawa Senators defenceman is a candidate to be the MVP. Doughty has been arguably Canada's best player with his ability to create something out of nothing from the back end. While the forwards have struggled to produce, Doughty and Weber have helped get Canada this far. Canadian coach Mike Babcock figures that goals will come in time, based on how much talent is on his roster, but Sweden has actually done it so far. Karlsson is the kind of game-breaker who can singlehandedly win gold. EDGE: Sweden

Defence — This isn't just a matchup of the two best teams in the tournament but the two best defensive teams. That's not a surprise for Sweden, which like many other European teams thrives on five-man units and the cohesive play that seems to be there from the drop of the puck. For Canada, team defence has been a revelation. Goals have been hard to come by in these Olympics, but from Sidney Crosby down the lineup, the Canadians have accepted and embraced a defensive identity. Sweden has been strong on defence despite not having Victor Hedman and then not playing Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the semifinals against Finland. Canada didn't need seventh defenceman Dan Hamhuis against the United States, either, but that's no shock given how well Duncan Keith, Weber, Doughty, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo have been playing. Babcock tweaked his forward lines plenty, but there's a reason he hasn't messed with his defensive pairs. Canada's defensive performance at these Games is something fans will be talking about for a long time. EDGE: Canada

Goaltending — Henrik Lundqvist vs. Carey Price is a classic case of a goaltender who has gotten the job done in one of these situations and one who looks like he has all the potential to do the same. Lundqvist had a stellar performance against Finland in 2006 to win gold for Sweden, and while he wasn't at his best in Vancouver has returned to put up a .951 save percentage in Sochi. Before these Olympics, Price's biggest test came in the 2007 world junior championship, and he passed with flying colours, beating the U.S. in the semifinals and then winning gold. Price, who has a .963 save percentage in this tournament, is in a groove right now even dating to his final few games for the Montreal Canadiens. His performance against the U.S. showed he can be great when called upon, but in a game with no margin for error, Price is still just slightly more of an unknown than Lundqvist. EDGE: Sweden

Prediction: Sweden 2, Canada 1

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CANADA

Forwards

Chris Kunitz — Sidney Crosby — Patrice Bergeron

Jamie Benn — Ryan Getzlaf — Corey Perry

Patrick Marleau — Jonathan Toews — Jeff Carter

Patrick Sharp — Matt Duchene — Rick Nash

Martin St. Louis

Defencemen

Duncan Keith — Shea Weber

Marc-Edouard Vlasic — Drew Doughty

Jay Bouwmeester — Alex Pietrangelo

Dan Hamhuis

Goaltenders

Carey Price — Roberto Luongo

Scratches

John Tavares (injured) — P.K. Subban — Mike Smith

SWEDEN

Forwards

Alex Steen — Patrik Berglund — Daniel Alfredsson

Daniel Sedin — Nicklas Backstrom — Loui Eriksson

Jakob Silfverberg — Marcus Johansson — Gabriel Landeskog

Carl Hagelin — Marcus Kruger — Jimmie Ericsson

Gustav Nyquist

Defencemen

Alex Edler — Erik Karlsson

Jonathan Ericsson — Niklas Kronwall

Niklas Hjalmarsson — Johnny Oduya

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Goaltenders

Henrik Lundqvist — Jhonas Enroth

Scratches

Henrik Zetterberg (injured) — Henrik Tallinder — Jonas Gustavsson

___

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