SOCHI, Russia -- Winning in Salt Lake City ended a half-century slump. Winning in Vancouver was the party of a lifetime. Winning in Russia?
"It feels great," said Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby, his second Olympic gold medal hanging from his neck. "No matter where this game would be played, I think you get up for it. But obviously we all know, being Canadian, the amount of history with Canada-Russia. I think ultimately to come here, bigger ice, different challenges than Vancouver -- everything wasn't perfectly set up for us as it was in Vancouver. But we had to adjust to the ice and everything else. Yeah, it feels great to be able to find a way to win."
Who else but Crosby and Jonathan Toews would you expect to lead the way with a goal apiece Sunday as Team Canada captured Olympic gold with a 3-0 win over Sweden in perhaps its most significant hockey achievement since the 1972 Summit Series.
Because this wasn't a Canada Cup or a World Cup won at home. It wasn't an Olympic gold medal won in North America. It was proving hockey supremacy on the other side of the ocean for once, erasing the painful memories of Nagano and Torino and finally slaying the perception that Team Canada couldn't win on big ice.
"It's nice to win [overseas] after how many years and after such a depressing situation in Torino and everyone saying that was the reason why, to come back here and win it and prove to everyone that Canada can play on big ice," said forward Rick Nash, a Torino holdover.
"That's one thing that obviously Canada has been scrutinized for in the past," added center Ryan Getzlaf. "It's nice to put that to rest and come over here and play a solid tournament."
To finally solve the big-ice puzzle, Team Canada approached the Sochi tournament with a single, devoted focus: how to defend on the larger ice surface. Nothing else mattered. The offense would flow on its own once a defensive foundation was laid and the players absorbed it.
Three goals against in six games, including back-to-back shutouts in the semifinals and final? Yeah, I'd say the plan worked.
Was that the most impressive defensive effort by a Canadian team in best-on-best competition ever?
"I believe so," said the team's architect, GM Steve Yzerman, who is not often associated with such statements. "As far as defensively, pucks staying out of the net, quality scoring chances, shots on goal, it was a pretty dominant performance by these guys.
"The coaching staff and players were phenomenal. The Russian national teams through the '70s and '80s were pretty spectacular. I don't know that I can say that, but I watched these six games and even though our team didn't score as many goals as we'd have liked, every other facet of our game was fantastic."
No question they got some breaks too. Nicklas Backstrom's ban from the gold-medal game was a huge blow for the Swedes, who were already without Henrik Zetterberg, Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen. But let's be honest: Sunday's game was a total crush job. Utter domination. While you feel bad for the Swedes and especially Backstrom, his presence in the lineup in the gold-medal game does not change the outcome.