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Siegel: Lundqvist looms as imposing obstacle to Canadian gold

Jonas Siegel
2/22/2014 8:42:53 AM
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SOCHI, Russia – Gabriel Landeskog was a 13-year-old kid in Stockholm standing on his couch and cheering emphatically when Henrik Lundqvist helped secure gold for the Swedes at the 2006 Olympics in Italy.

"My dad was kind of yelling at me to sit down and relax," recalled Landeskog, now 21 and a member of the Swedish Olympic squad here in Sochi. "I'm like 'what do you mean, sit down and relax? We just won the Olympics!'"

Prominent in those memories for the budding Colorado Avalanche captain was the performance of a then-23-year-old Lundqvist, who stopped 25 shots in the final with Finland, preserving the second Olympic gold for Sweden.

"He pretty much singlehandedly won that final game," said Landeskog of the 3-2 victory.

He's known as the King and stands as perhaps the biggest obstacle to a gold repeat for Team Canada at these Olympics. Not only the face and cornerstone of the New York Rangers and one of the top goaltenders in the NHL, Lundqvist makes a strong case as one of the best Olympic goaltenders ever and a major obstacle for the Canadians in Sunday's '94 gold medal rematch with Sweden.

"He's a tough guy to beat," said Rick Nash, a teammate of Lundqvist with the Rangers, but an opponent with gold on the line.

Unbeaten in Russia (5-0-0), Lundqvist enters the afternoon affair at Bolshoy Ice Dome with the second-most career wins by an Olympic goaltender – trailing only the great Vladislav Tretiak with 17 – and the second-best career goals against average (1.71).

He made 25 saves Friday, including all eight in the final frame, to preserve victory for the Swedes in their semifinal matchup with Finland. "Hank has been playing unbelievable for us," said Erik Karlsson afterward. "In that part, we feel pretty confident."

And in a one game scenario for all the marbles 'that' can be the difference.

Sweden may not boast anywhere near the talent of Canada – especially with injuries to Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen – but they might not need it if Lundqvist delivers a masterpiece.

"He can stand on his head for us," said captain Nicklas Kronwall. "That'd be good."

Led by Carey Price, who has sizzled in his first test on the Olympic stage, the Canadians have had no trouble defending here in Russia, but scoring has been another matter. They managed (and ultimately needed) just a single marker against Jonathan Quick and the Americans in the semifinal and have scored a mere four goals in the past nine regulation periods. Chances have been aplenty, but few have ended up in the back of the net, a concern when Lundqvist lies on the horizon at the top of his game.

"I get to see him every day," said Nash of the soon-to-be 31-year-old, a winner in 12 of 14 Olympic starts. "He's a guy that plays kind of a different style – deep in his net. He's a tough guy to figure out even when you shoot on him every day. He doesn't play like regular goalies."

And he seemingly doesn't prepare like 'regular goalies' either. Swedish teammates have been struck by the preparation of the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner.

"I'm really impressed the way he prepares for the games off the ice and how he's mentally prepared for each game," said Niklas Hjalmarsson. "To see his preparation has been pretty impressive and the way he's been playing has obviously helped our team a lot."

"You don't want to bother him game-days," Jonathan Ericsson observed. "You see that he's in his own bubble."

Ericsson described Lundqvist as "standing, focusing and doing his own thing".

Winning 10 of his final 14 starts with the Rangers before the Olympic break with a sparkling .937 save percentage, Lundqvist has picked up right where he left off in Sochi, stopping 117 of 123 shots in a perfect run for Sweden.
 
He is a barrier that Canada will have to overcome to claim a second consecutive gold and third in the past four Olympics.
 
"He makes saves that you think you have an open net and he finds a way to smother that puck," said Patrick Sharp. "He's definitely a guy that's going to be key for them."

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