If the 2014 Olympic hockey tournament does prove to be the last one featuring the National Hockey League's best for the time being, it will absolutely be one worth remembering, as it was every bit as entertaining as advertised.
That is, of course, unless you're a fan of the host Russian squad.
In the end, neither team that advanced to the gold-medal game was a surprise to hockey fans, as Canada and Sweden have now combined to win four of the five gold medals handed out since the NHL began sending its players to the Olympics in 1998.
After what was arguably the most exciting international hockey event of the last 20 years, here's a look at what we learned over the course of the tournament, along with full medal results and the Olympic scoring leaders.
|Olympic Scoring Leaders|
|1||Phil Kessel (RW)||USA||6||5||3||8||6|
|2||Erik Karlsson (D)||Sweden||6||4||4||8||5|
|3||Mikael Granlund (C/LW)||Finland||6||3||4||7||3|
|4||James van Riemsdyk (LW)||USA||6||1||6||7||7|
|5||Michael Grabner (LW/RW)||Austria||4||5||1||6||-2|
|6||Drew Doughty (D)||Canada||6||4||2||6||4|
|7||Teemu Selänne (RW)||Finland||6||4||2||6||3|
|8||Alexander Radulov (RW)||Russia||5||3||3||6||4|
|9||Shea Weber (D)||Canada||6||3||3||6||5|
|10||Pavel Datsyuk (C)||Russia||5||2||4||6||3|
The Russian machine is broken
In 2010, the star-studded Russian squad flamed out spectacularly in Vancouver, as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk were thoroughly dominated by the host Canadians in the quarterfinals and fell 7-3 en route to an early exit.
This time around, Russia was supposed to be on a quest for redemption, but at no point did this team look like it had a realistic shot at a medal.
Ovechkin and Malkin each failed to register a goal outside of the first period of the team's opening game against Slovenia. While both former NHL MVPs should be disappointed with their play, head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov deserves the lion's share of the blame.
As Yahoo! Sports' Dmitry Chesnokov points out, Malkin and Ovechkin have never enjoyed much success playing together, and after that trend continued in Sochi, they should have been split up.
Instead of making the smart coaching decision, Bilyaletdinov opted to continue sending them over the boards on a line. To make matters worse, he pointed the finger at Ovechkin after the team was eliminated by Finland in the quarterfinals.
Ultimately, Russia's lack of depth of front, lack of talent defensively and revolving door of goaltenders all played big roles in this team's demise, and one has to wonder when this team will be competitive on big stages again.
Defense wins out on the big ice
Though much of the talk surrounding the selection process for the world's top teams focused on which star forwards would be invited to Sochi, this tournament proved that having deep defensive units is far more important.
Not surprisingly, the two teams with the best defenses advanced to the title game, because on the larger international ice, scoring chances are much harder to come by, so being able to limit the opposition's quality opportunities is pivotal.
Sweden had a very impressive group headlined by Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Kronwall and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Their ability to help transition from defense to offense was particularly critical to the Swedes' success.
The Canadians had a slightly more star-studded unit. Given the team's offensive struggles early on, the contributions from Drew Doughty and Shea Weber cannot be understated.
Beyond those two, Duncan Keith, Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo provided Canada with responsible yet mobile defensive presences, and all played their roles perfectly. P.K. Subban's day to shine internationally once again will come, but it says a lot about this team's depth when the reigning Norris Trophy winner can't find his way into a top six.
At the other end of the spectrum, despite Russia's enviable collection of game-breaking forwards, the hosts' defense featured a handful of guys who would be bit players at the NHL level. One has to wonder how veteran Sergei Gonchar was left off the team, despite his age.
Finn-ishing things off
Once again, Finland got overlooked as a medal contender going into the tournament, but in fairness, that's understandable given that this team was without arguably its two best forwards in Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula, who both missed the tournament with injuries.
Nonetheless, the Finns did what they always seem to do, which is put forth a great team effort and use persistence and discipline to wear down opponents.
On their way to the bronze medal, the Finns had to knock off a pair of decidedly more talented squads in Russia and the United States, which says a lot about this team's ability to quickly gel into a cohesive unit that's very difficult to play against.
Overall, maybe we shouldn't have been overly surprised by Finland's performance, because this national team has managed medals in four of the five NHL-era Olympic Games.
Yes, Canada's back-to-back gold medals are the story of this tournament, but 43-year-old Teemu Selanne's four goals and six points while captaining Finland cemented his legacy as arguably the greatest Olympic hockey player of this era.
Saturday's bronze-medal game felt eerily similar to the Finland-Canada showdown at Nagano, Japan in 1998, when Wayne Gretzky and the Canadians fell to Selanne's Finns despite having by far the more talented roster.
Back then, Canada was coming off a heartbreaking shootout loss to Dominik Hasek and the Czechs in the semifinals, and though the U.S.-Canada clash in Sochi ended in regulation, there was a clear emotional letdown in both cases.
Dan Bylsma led the United States to a sparkling 4-0 start heading into the semifinals, and given the play of Jonathan Quick, one had to imagine that the Americans had a very real chance at capturing the nation's first gold in men's hockey since 1980.
However, after Jamie Benn's goal stood up as the winner, the U.S. simply didn't show up to play, and the 5-0 loss to an obviously less skilled Finnish club indicated that Zach Parise and company had their hearts set solely on gold.
That being said, the U.S. team should've been more motivated, because coming home without a medal is simply unacceptable for a roster with so many franchise players and All-Stars.
Captain Crosby's clutch
Canada will never forget Sidney Crosby's golden goal against the United States in 2010, but the captain was taking heat for entering the gold-medal game without a single marker in Sochi.
As usual, the game's most dominant player showed up when his team needed him most, as he scored a beautiful breakaway goal to essentially lock up the win for the Canadians.
Despite his lack of production, Crosby was consistently a force in each of Canada's games, and fittingly, he delivered the decisive tally on the world's biggest stage.
Sweden's struggles down the middle
Without Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg, the Swedes would've needed a big day out of Nicklas Backstrom to keep pace with Canada's deep, talented offensive group.
Unfortunately, the Washington Capitals superstar pivot was unable to take the ice with the rest of the Swedes on Sunday, but according to CBS Sports' Brian Stubits, it wasn't because of any injury or illness. Backstrom was pulled for using an illegal substance. It sounds worse than it probably is as it reportedly came from taking allergy medicine.
If that's ultimately the case, the Swedes fell victim to bad luck down the middle at the worst time, because on the big ice, being without any of your top three centers is a recipe for disaster.
In addition, Backstrom had been solid as Sweden's setup man on the power play, so one can only wonder whether his presence would've made a difference for the silver medalists.
The Price is right
The gold-medal game featured two of the game's best goaltenders in Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, but in the end, Price was simply the better stopper on the ice.
Sure, the shots favored Canada by a wide margin at 36-24, but Price shut the door early, and once Canada secured the lead on Jonathan Toews' goal, the Montreal Canadiens star never wavered.
Gustav Nyquist came close to beating Price, but after his attempt rang off the right post, the Swedes couldn't find a way to realistically challenge the former World Junior hero.
The choice of Price over 2010 Olympic starter Roberto Luongo may have been controversial to some, but Price's performance over the last two games showed that he was the right man for the job.
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