Sweden enters the 2014 Winter Olympic men's ice hockey tournament with a new cast of characters, but the same expectations. After winning gold in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, Sweden finished perfect in pool play in 2010, before getting knocked out by Slovakia in an upsetting quarterfinal loss.
Ranked fourth entering the Sochi tournament (with rankings based on the 2012 IIHF World Rankings), Sweden returns 11 players from the 2010 team, and six from the gold medal 2006 team.
Of that core group, none may be more important than goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who saw the bulk of the time in goal when Sweden won its second-ever gold in Torino.
"It's going to be exciting. I think we have a really good team," said Lundqvist in an interview with SB Nation. "But it's the Olympics -- such a short tournament -- so it's about getting everything to work at the right time, and peak at the right time to go all the way."
Never a doubt
There was never a doubt Lundqvist was going to be the guy between the pipes for Sweden once again in 2014, marking his third consecutive stint as Sweden's Olympic goaltender. The only question after a slow start to his NHL season, however: Will he be able to find his game in time for Sochi?
"Personally, I feel like things are definitely moving in the right direction," said Lundqvist, who started 2-5 this season for the New York Rangers, but has since progressed to his normal level of play. "I'm playing my game. I had a stretch when I was watching a lot of tape. I was working really hard to try to get back to basics."
In front of Lundqvist, the picture will be a little different for the Swedes. Blue line stalwart and world class defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom retired after the 2013 NHL season and won't be a part of the team. The defense will also be without Douglas Murray and Mattias Ohlund, who were left off the team. Victor Hedman, who was thought by many to be a lock, was also passed over.
The absence of a few strong players hasn't done anything to crack Lundqvist's confidence or his excitement for the Olympics, however.
"We definitely have a chance," he said. "You go there, and you take in all the atmosphere, and the village, and the arenas. That's very special to me. All of us that are going are excited about it."
Olympic fatigue: Worth it?
Before his first Olympic tournament in 2006 -- also his first NHL season -- Lundqvist started 40 games with the Rangers, then started six of Sweden's eight games in Torino.
In 2010, his overall Olympic numbers improved compared to 2006. He allowed just four goals in his first three games, and set a modern-day record with 172-plus consecutive shutout minutes. Lundqvist also allowed all four goals in a quarterfinal loss against Slovakia, in which he faced only 14 shots, however.
Before that tournament, Lundqvist played 56 NHL games, before going on to finish the season with a personal career-high 73 outings. It also marked the only season of his career that the Rangers missed the playoffs.
"Is it good to get a full week break and no games at all? Or is it better to play and stay fresh?" said Lundqvist. "You can look at it both ways. I don't see it as a bad thing to go over there and play for your country."
Choosing not to bring up fatigue, Lundqvist described the differences between the tournament and everyday NHL life, and the reprieve it provides.
"Mentally, it's almost like a break because it's such a different environment. Different teammates, preparations are different," he said. "I remember every time you come back, you're excited to be back in New York and start playing again."
Sweden opens the tournament with Group C play vs. the Czech Republic on Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 12 p.m. ET.