There are two reasons why Sweden should be in the thick of the hunt for the gold medal in men's hockey at the 2014 Winter Olympics: Henrik Lundqvist and Henrik Lundqvist.
“King Henrik,” the gold-medal winning goalie for Sweden at Turin 2006, is arguably the best goaltender in the world right now. Although he got off to a slow start for the New York Rangers in the 2013-14 NHL season, the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner as the top goalie in the league has the ability to completely dominate a short tournament.
After finishing fifth at Vancouver four years ago, Sweden is looking to bounce back in a big way at the Sochi Games. Head coach Pär Mårts selected a team laden with NHL talent. Many of the faces will be familiar from Vancouver and from last years’ IIHF World Championship, which Sweden won. However, Marts has added enough young talent that it should provide the Swedes with the shot in the arm they need to claim the gold.

Goaltending the backbone of Team Sweden
The key to any tournament such as the Olympics is a hot goalie and Lundqvist, who has been hot of late, is the type of net minder who could carry the Tre Kronor to their second gold medal in the Games. Right behind Lundqvist are Detroit Red Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson and Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabers. Enroth was a surprise pick as Robin Lehner had seemingly played his way onto the squad, but Marts went with experience.
Sweden won't be the deepest team down the middle on attack, but the top two centers are among the best on the planet. Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg have been mainstays with the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings, respectively, and are captains in the NHL. Sweden will need to get more production out of Daniel Sedin, Henrik’s twin brother and Canucks teammate, than it did four years ago in Vancouver. Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, Boston Bruins right winger Loui Eriksson, St. Louis Blues winger Alexander Steen, Washington Capitals center Niklas Backstrom are all threats to score any time they step onto the ice.

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Back to international size rinks
The 2014 tournament features a return to the larger, international ice rink after playing 2010 on the NHL-sized surface. This should prove a plus for puck handlers such as Johan Franzen and Jakob Silferberg. Daniel Alfredsson, one of eight Swedish players from Detroit on the Tre Kronor, will bring with him a wealth of experience and leadership in what is likely to the 40 year old’s final Olympics.
On defense, Sweden has depth, talent and oodles of scoring ability. Erik Karlsson won the Norris Trophy with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012 as the league’s best defenseman. His likely partner on the blue line, Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Phoenix Coyotes, is a 22-year-old phenom who could well vie for the Norris Trophy this year. Combined, Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson are likely to log massive amounts of ice time throughout the tournament and will be pivotal on special teams. Detroit pair Jonathan Ericsson and Jonas Kronwall are the top blue liners for the Red Wings but Ericsson’s status is clouded as he continues to rebound from a broken rib. Another pair of teammates, Blackhawks defensemen Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson, should provide depth and strength in front of goal. Surprisingly, Marts chose not to select talented young defensemen Jonas Brodin and Victor Hedman for the team, instead going with Alex Edler of the Canucks and Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder, both of whom are hulking presences along the blue line.

No easy road...
The path to the gold won’t be easy. Sweden plays in a more-than-winnable group with Switzerland, Latvia and the Czech Republic. The Czechs will be the toughest opponent Sweden faces in Group C but after that, the going gets much rougher. Canada is the odds-on favorite to defend its 2010 gold medal and the Canadians come into the tournament loaded. Russia is also looking to make noise as the host nation and with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals’ goal machine, anything is possible. The United States and Finland also have greatly improved and will battle to get into the medal round.
Sweden plays its first game in the tournament February 12 when it takes on the Czechs. The game is on at noon, EST on the NBC Sports Network. Sweden plays Switzerland of February 14 at 7:30 a.m. EST. Sweden’s third game is February 15 at noon, EST, against Latvia. For a complete TV schedule, go to: http://www.stlouisgametime.com/2014/1/21/5332468/2014-olympic-hockey-schedule-released-wake-up-early