Mats Sundin smiles following Sweden's 3-2 victory in hockey gold medal action at the Olympic Games in Turin, Italy on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2006. (CP Photo/Frank Gunn)
TURIN -- Mats Sundin lifted the gold medal off his chest and gave it a kiss.
Victory never tasted so sweet.
Somewhere Tommy Salo must have heaved a sigh of relief after Sweden helped erase the memory of its performance in Salt Lake City in 2002 with a victory in the gold medal game yesterday.
As delirious Swedish fans in the Palasport Arena went crazy, the players leaped for joy on their bench during the final few seconds of a 3-2 victory over Finland.
While the win sparked an all-night party in Stockholm, the Swedish players -- unable to leave Turin because of airport restrictions during the closing ceremony -- held their own victory celebration at a downtown restaurant.
"This means a lot to the people in Sweden and a lot to this generation of players because we got a chance to win a gold medal together. We just feel great right now," Sundin said.
"We just played well as a team and we got the job done. To get the medal is such a great feeling. The Finns played a great game, but this just was our day. We got the big saves and we got the goals when we needed them."
The Swedes were heavily criticized in Salt Lake after Salo -- then with the Edmonton Oilers -- had a shot deflect off his facemask into the net for the winning goal in a shocking quarter-final loss to Belarus.
"Look, Salt Lake City is always going to be there," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "There's nothing you can do about it. I might even tell my kids about it. You can't be embarrassed by it because it happened.
"But you learn from it and you move on. Nobody can take this (pointing at his gold medal) away from us either. It's always going to be there. This is something we really wanted and we achieved our goal."
Defenceman Nik Lidstrom scored the winner only 10 seconds into the third period off a faceoff. He fired a shot from the point that beat Antero Niittymaki on the stick side. From there, the Swedes and goalie Henrik Lundqvist shut the door.
Henrik Zetterberg, the Swedes' best player in the game, and Niklas Kronwall also scored.
Kimmo Timonen opened the scoring for Finland in the first and Ville Peltonen tied it in the second. Olli Jokinen had a great chance with 30 seconds left, but Lundqvist made a big stick save.
"This is just such a great feeling," Swedish winger Daniel Sedin said. "This has been a great couple of weeks. We worked hard. You need to work hard to win and this is such a good feeling.
The Finns rolled through the tournament unbeaten until yesterday's final, allowing only two goals. But none of that matters now.
"This is a proud moment, but it's also a tough one," captain Saku Koivu said. "There are moments like this where's it's tough to see the positive right now. For some reason, we didn't have a our best game. Sweden is a veteran team. They just seemed to handle it better."
Sweden, meanwhile, will savour its first Olympic gold since 1994, when Peter Forsberg performed his shootout heroics in Lillehammer. There have been world championships since then, but nothing compared to this.
"This is what means the most," said Alfredsson.