In the span of about 60 hours, hockey fans will switch their focus from the Olympic gold medal game to the NHL's return with the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Buffalo Sabres. It's quite a drop-off in intensity, but still, the NHL is returning for the stretch run and soon enough the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be here.
Before we get there, let's take a look back at the Sochi Olympic hockey tournament. After almost two weeks, it ended with Canada's men winning their second straight gold, while the women were victorious in the end for the fourth consecutive time.
Here are ten things we won't forget.
• Latvia's belief
Every Olympics seems to have a Cinderella team, but few could have predicted what Latvia would do after failing to win any of their three group stage games. Paired up with Switzerland in the qualification round, Ted Nolan's men surprised everyone with a 3-1 win, beating Jonas Hiller who had posted two shutouts already in the tournament. A day later, however, it would all be over after a late power play goal earned Canada a 2-1 victory.
Afterward, Nolan's players applauded his ability to turn around a national team that so desperately needed direction. "He brings a different spirit on the team. He actually makes us believe that we’re actually a good team," said Kaspars Daugavins.
A month ago, Martin St. Louis wasn't on Team Canada and didn't think he'd be in Sochi. On Sunday, he was wearing gold and riding the shoulders of Mike Smith during the Closing Ceremony.
• Russia again falls short
It's become routine already. Russia has high expectations entering the Olympics and they fall disappointingly short. After exiting Vancouver four years ago with a 7-3 loss to Canada, Russia didn't look themselves at all in Sochi and were dismissed by Finland in the quarterfinals. These were the Games the Russian players wanted to participate in and whether it was the pressure on home soil or makeup of the team, they leave without a medal for the third straight Olympics. Referee Brad Meier wasn't even made into soap, despite protests.
• Slovenia surprises
Like Latvia, Slovenia was expected to be one of the tournament's minnows, but Anze Kopitar and company did well for themselves with a group stage win over Slovakia and then a 4-0 shutout of Austria in the qualification round. The dream ended with a loss to Sweden in the quarterfinals, but a first Olympic appearance with a first Olympic victory for the small country will certainly inspire many.
• The T.J. Oshie Show vs. Russia
At the time, it appeared to be the moment that would boost Team USA toward a gold medal. Instead, it turned out to be their only highlight in what would quickly become a sour ending. U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma did his best Herb Brooks impersonation by telling Oshie "Again!" during their shootout versus Russia. Oshie would succeed in four of his six tries, with his final attempt beating Sergei Bobrovsky five hole to give the Americans a 3-2 win and fire the St. Louis Blues forward into stardom.
• An embarrassing exit for the Americans
U.S. general manager David Poile and his staff built this team expecting gold. They would finish fourth after losing out to Canada in the semifinal and then getting embarrassed by Finland in the bronze medal game. Everything that went right early on went south. And when they needed it the most, the offense dried up and the U.S. were shutout in their final two games.
At 43 years old, the Finnish Flash would have loved to have scored his first Olympic gold medal, but a third career bronze would be just fine. In their 5-0 defeat over the U.S. in the bronze medal game, Selanne scored twice and ended his international career as the all-time leading scorer in the modern Olympic era with 43 points. Adding to his accolades, Selanne was voted the tournament's Most Valuable Player, as chosen by the media.
• The post heard 'round the world
Holding a 2-1 lead late in the third period, the U.S. women were moments away from celebrating their first Olympic gold medal since 1998. With an empty-net in the Canadian end, U.S. forward Kelli Stack fired the puck down the ice and for a brief moment, the women had golden dreams. Instead, the puck clanked off the post. That opened the door for a Canada comeback, capped off with the gold medal-winning goal by Marie-Philip Poulin 8:40 into overtime.
• Nicklas Backstrom missing the gold medal game
Getting told two hours before the gold medal game that you failed a drug test for Zyrtec-D is no way for any player to leave these Games. A drug he had taken for the past seven years showed up in Backstrom's urine with a higher concentration than the IOC's doping rules allow. “This is one of the toughest days for Swedish hockey, all because of IOC,” Sweden GM Tommy Boustedt said. “They have destroyed this big hockey day for Swedish fans.” The NHL and NHLPA have all come out in support of Backstrom, who now sits and waits for the investigation to end to learn whether or not he'll be awarded his silver medal.
• Canada's gold
They were one of the favorites, but no one thought they would win gold the way that they did. Canada looked like the Soviet "Big Red Machine" in their way to a second straight Olympic gold medal. They scored 17 goals, allowed only three and never trailed at any point in the tournament. It was a dominant performance that ended with a mic drop by head coach Mike Babcock. "Does anybody know who won the scoring race? Does anybody care? Does anyone know who won the gold medal? See you, guys."
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