By Frank Pingue
SOCHI, Russia, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Goaltending was the main concern for the Canadian men's ice hockey team ahead of the Sochi Olympics but Carey Price was up for the task, proving a stable force in net en route to winning a gold medal.
Price registered two shutouts in four games during Canada's golden Sochi run, including Sunday's 3-0 win over Sweden in the tournament's finale that drew praise from his team mates.
"Obviously we gave up some chances and he was there to shut the door," defenseman Duncan Keith told reporters.
"Looking back, there was never any play where he bobbled the puck. Every time it was in his glove there was a whistle, there was nothing ever that made it kind've scary out there. He always calmed things down with a clean save."
Price was forced to make several saves during a busy start to Sunday's game, including one where he had to reach behind him to smother a loose puck that had hit the goal post and bounced off his leg before sliding toward the goal line.
The 26-year-old netminder led all goalies in the 12-team tournament with a minuscule 0.59 percent goals against average and .971 save percentage.
"World class," forward Rick Nash said when asked to describe Price's play in Sochi. "The backbone of this team and main reason why we won gold. Goaltending wins championships."
Price allowed one goal in each of his first three games but was unbeatable the rest of the way, turning aside 31 shots in a hotly-contested 1-0 semi-final win over the United States before going on to stop 33 shots against Sweden.
While Price showed excellent rebound control for the better part of the tournament, he was quick to remind everyone of the luxury he had playing behind a shut-down defense that allowed a tournament-low three goals.
"It all comes down to that confidence in that team in front of me," Price told reporters. "They allowed me to see the puck, they cleared any junk that I left out in front of the net and all I had to worry about was making that first save."
Canada's goaltending in the lead-up to Sochi was also a hot topic among the country's ice hockey fans and media, not much different than it was heading into the 2010 Vancouver Games where they went on to win gold as well.
Roberto Luongo, the backup netminder in Sochi, got the start in the 2010 Olympics and registered a shutout in a routine 8-0 win over Norway.
Martin Brodeur started the following two games, with Luongo then taking over in the medal round after the former lost to the U.S. in the preliminary round. Canada went on to win the gold.
In Sochi, Luongo made 23 saves to register a routine shutout in Canada's 6-0 preliminary round win over Austria but was never truly a threat to take over the job from Price.
"We are fortunate to be able to play in front of a guy like that," said defenseman Shea Weber. "As much as we would've liked a few more goals we knew that if we stuck to the defensive side of the game and got timely scoring we could win." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)