This is it. The culmination of the men's ice hockey tournament in the 2014 Sochi Olympics will take place Sunday in a clash of the titans between Sweden and Canada. Each of these teams have already made a gold-medal case for themselves, and now they will get their chance to earn it on Day 16.
Sweden has been extremely dominant, winning each of its games in regulation throughout the tournament. A deep offense and stellar goaltending has been its recipe for success.
Canada has yet to lose a game either, riding some of the best goaltending seen in the Olympics to the gold-medal contest.
This is a matchup that should not be missed. Let's take a look at the event's viewing information followed by the game's outlook and a prediction of what may ensue when these two powerhouses take the ice on Sunday.
What: Sweden vs. Canada: Men's ice hockey gold-medal game
Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome
When: Sunday, Feb. 23
TV Time: 7 a.m. ET
Live Stream: NBCOlympics.com
The Swedes have overpowered their opponents throughout the 2014 Olympics. Whether their wins have resulted from impenetrable goaltending, unrelenting offense or a mix of both, they have reached the gold-medal game in decisive fashion.
During the preliminary rounds, Sweden tormented a very strong Group C, scoring 10 goals and allowing five over its three games played. The team only seemed to get better as the tournament moved along, scoring seven goals and allowing just one in its two playoff contests.
Henrik Lundqvist has been a revelation for the Swedes, starting all five games in net while allowing six goals but making an astonishing 117 saves over that span. His performances have netted him a save percentage of .951 for the tournament.
The team's deep offense is also one of its strong suits. The Swedes have scored 17 goals throughout the tournament, but each line has been very deep with 10 different players finding the back of the net.
Sweden's hottest player has been Erik Karlsson, an attacking defender who has scored four goals on 17 shots, accumulated four assists and has a team-high plus/minus rating of plus-five.
After the Swedes' semifinal win against Finland, Karlsson spoke of the team's stout defense during an interview with Corey Masisak of NHL.com:
I think [Friday] we played really, really well [defensively]. I think it won us the game [Friday]. We were really sound in the neutral zone and the defensive zone and took away their speed as much as we could. We really didn't give them any of the quality scoring chances that we've been giving up earlier in the tournament. [Lundqvist] has been playing unbelievable for us as well. In that part we feel pretty confident.
If that same defense shows up in the gold-medal game against Canada, the Swedes could find themselves with gold around their necks in short order.
Team Canada has plenty of star power; however, it simply has not been able to put it all together like the Swedes have.
Like Sweden, Canada thrives on defense. Its goaltending has been some of the best in the 2014 Olympics. Led by Carey Price, Canada has only allowed three goals throughout the entire tournament. Impressive.
Price allowed three goals on 82 shots, stopping 79 for a save percentage of .963. Roberto Luongo also saw some time in front of the net, making 23 saves for a perfect save percentage of 1.000.
This stellar goaltending allowed Team Canada to shut out the United States in the semifinals for the Americans' first goalless game since 1976. Thanks to that great goaltending, the Canadians have yet to find themselves behind at any point in the 2014 Olympics.
Offense has been a bit of an issue for Canada, however.
During the preliminary rounds, Canada went unbeaten, scoring 11 goals and allowing just two. However, they have had two close calls in the playoffs, beating Latvia by a score of 2-1 and the United States 1-0.
Simply put, the Canadians will need to muster some more offense if they are to take the gold medal from the Swedes.
After Canada beat the United States in the semifinals, forward Jonathan Toews looked to the future during an interview with ESPN.com, saying, "We didn't score a lot of goals, but we didn't have to. The next game will follow that work ethic. We can check, we can work our tails off, and we can make things real tough for the other team."
That has been the theme for Canada throughout the Winter Games.
If the Canadians can rally their offense and apply pressure to Lundqvist and the Swedes, they will have a great shot at earning men's ice hockey's top honors in Sochi.
We are already well aware that both of these teams boast extremely good defenses. This should certainly be a low-scoring game that comes down to the final minutes. A blowout either way seems almost impossible.
However, this contest will all come down to which team finds a way to generate some sort of offense against its opponent. Going into this matchup, that team would be Sweden. It has been the most well-rounded team of the tournament, and that will carry the Swedes through to earn them the gold medal.
Sweden 3, Canada 2
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