Kovacevic: Crosby, Kunitz win 1 for chemistry
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, 7:21 p.m.
SOCHI, Russia — Chris Kunitz's nose was rammed into the relentless wood of Bolshoy Ice Dome's boards with such force that it bent 45 degrees. He'd been butchered from behind by Sweden's Patrik Berglund, and it looked bad. Even once finding his way up off the ice to all fours, he was dazed, glassy-eyed. Dripping blood, too.
He took his next shift.
And when he took possession in the defensive zone and looked up ice to see Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron with blades down for a breakout pass, he faked once, kept the puck, coolly skated a couple of strides … and dumped it in.
That's chemistry, Canada.
‘Committed as a group'
Crosby's gold in Canada's 3-0 technical devastation of Sweden in the Olympic final was his second victorious Games in a row, following up on the iconic finish in Vancouver, but also his first as captain.
It was hard to tell which of those was responsible for his being more mellow in his joy this time than I remember from four years ago, but there's no question — from his boyish smile when bowing his head for the medal to the lap around the ice with the maple leaf — the Kid in him was plenty satisfied.
“It's an amazing feeling, obviously,” he said. “It's a great accomplishment for us as a team, and I'm happy for everyone celebrating back home right now.”
What he was happiest about, though, unmistakably wasn't the breakaway beauty he backhanded by Henrik Lundqvist, one that finally erased his zero in the G column. It might not even have been the outcome.
Ask me, and it was the how.
Canada finished the tournament with consecutive shutouts, no goals allowed in the final eight periods and — get this — a total of three goals over all six games. Best in Olympic history.
Crosby lit up every time the topic was raised.
“We had to work for this,” he said. “We had to come here and make real adjustments, to the bigger ice, to what other teams were doing. I think our work ethic, our desperation, our defense and our goaltending made the difference. Everyone was committed as a group.”
Might explain why Kunitz, who also scored his first goal on a rising wrister to finish a fine individual — repeat, individual — effort, had a similar view of his first gold.
“It's a great feeling. I can't even describe it,” he said. “And the best part, really, is that we came here with a plan and a goal and put our trust in each other. We did this together.”
‘Kunitz is a moon'
That concept was understood all along by Crosby, Kunitz, their 23 teammates and pretty much everyone else associated with the program.
It also was understood by Steve Yzerman, the GM, when he added Kunitz because he valued not only what Crosby and Kunitz bring separately but also together.
And by Mike Babcock, the coach, when he stuck by Kunitz after a nervous, ineffective round robin.
But be very sure that it wasn't understood in the slightest by the all-out anti-Kunitz revolt burgeoning among fans back in Canada or the considerable Canadian media doing the grilling here. Seven Canadian forwards had gone goal-less through the first five games, including Crosby, but it was Kunitz — and largely as a result, Crosby — who became scapegoats.
In print alone …
“Crosby's caddie or not, he looks lost out there.”
“Kunitz is a moon orbiting a planet. Stars might be better.”
“A lot of people give Canada grief for bringing Kunitz here, but seriously, you should see how neatly Sid's shirts are pressed.”
The dual implication, of course, was not only that Kunitz didn't belong but also that it was sad Crosby had him dragged along.
Wrong and wrong.
Funny, but it's almost unfortunate toward this end that Crosby and Kunitz scored against the Swedes. Because now, the theme might be that they finally contributed.
They did more than just contribute the entire tournament. They might well have led the way.
When Babcock was asked early in the tournament about Crosby's scoring drought, he elegantly replied: “I don't measure Sidney Crosby by goals. I measure Sidney Crosby by wins.”
Tellingly, when Babcock was asked Sunday about Jonathan Toews, who scored the game's first goal, he replied out of nowhere: “I thought Sidney Crosby was so dominant.”
Be sure he wasn't measuring by Crosby's goal.
‘Lead by example'
What Babcock understood better than anyone was that he couldn't win the tournament without his best player. Yes, that undoubtedly did factor in the Kunitz addition, even if Kunitz deserved far more respect for his selection. But it also was why the coach applauded both Crosby and Kunitz in the early going for their two-way play. He stressed it as much as anything, actually.
As a result, it was easy to detect a comfort level from both that, candidly, you wouldn't see in Pittsburgh if either were slumping. Crosby would just laugh off questions about not scoring. And Kunitz, in an ironic turn, actually became less uptight than upon arrival.
Those two had found their thing: They'd set the tone defensively.
“Everyone knows how those two play together,” Jeff Carter said. “What we got to see was how they do it at both ends.”
That's real chemistry, real trust.
Crosby and Kunitz both had their parents in the stands here, and both had welcome company for roommates, Crosby with good acquaintance Shea Weber, and Kunitz with two former Anaheim mates Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. But the history between these two has been that they communicate with each other first and foremost. So, even though both were adamant they weren't privy to any criticism of their work, both had to know from the questioning that eyes were increasingly on them.
They talked, then, as they always do. And not just amongst themselves.
“You always want to lead by example,” Crosby said. “I don't think it was just me and Kuny because Patrice was a big part of it, too. Our whole team talked about playing a certain way, and it obviously paid off in the end. We're proud of this.”
A little defiant, too.
I asked Kunitz if, in light of all the fuss over him, it felt good to score.
He grinned just a little and replied: “It felt really good … ” before regaining his footing and adding, “to contribute for my teammates.”
No one was more delightfully defiant than Babcock, who ended his news conference with a classic mic-drop moment after being asked yet again about the team's lack of offense.
“Does anyone know who won the scoring race? Does anyone care?” he snapped back. “Does anybody know who won the gold medal?”
He stood up to leave.
“See you guys.”
Yes, sir. In four years. Korea. May the best team win.
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