SOCHI, Russia--The moment the puck came off her stick, Kelli Stack knew it was going to hit the goal post of Canada's empty net. And at that point--with her U.S. team still clinging to a one-goal lead--she didn't believe it would matter. "I'm thinking, 'Oh, that would have been nice if that went in,'' she said. "An inch to the right.''
As the puck nicked off the post, Canadian defenseman Catherine Ward thought something much different. That one inch would be wide enough for her team to charge through and rip the Olympic gold medal out of the Americans' hands, leaving Canada the space to rally for a 3-2 overtime victory in another stirring, stunning battle royale between the two best women's hockey teams in the world.
On their sport's biggest stage, the two old rivals put on another epic show at Bolshoy Ice Dome, demonstrating how fast, bruising and beautiful the women's game can be. But the Americans were left again to weep the wrong kind of tears. Even Ward said she and her teammates felt a little sad for their longtime sparring partners, whose Olympic gold-medal drought will now stretch to two decades.
Canada won its fourth consecutive Winter Games gold by erasing a 2-0 U.S. lead in the final three minutes, 26 seconds. Marie-Philip Poulin stuck the shiv into the U.S. again, just as she had in the Canadians' gold-medal triumph four years earlier. Her goal with 54.6 seconds remaining tied the game, and two American penalties in the overtime paved the way for her to score the winner on a five-on-three advantage.
The U.S. has not won a gold medal since 1998, the first year that women's hockey was part of the Winter Games. Late penalties, some funky bounces, a couple of defensive lapses and that agonizing, slow-motion bounce off the post led to their third Olympic silver medal, allowing Canada to maintain an Olympic winning streak that now stretches over more than 16 years.
"I really just told myself, 'This is meant to be,''' said Ward, whose team has won 20 games in a row at the Olympics. "This is our chance. We have to keep going. We're going to get it.
"The momentum in a game can switch so fast. With our first goal, I think (the Americans) were on their heels. We just kept the pressure on, and we got that second goal, which was unbelievable. For sure, we feel for the U.S., but I didn't want to lose. It was ours to win.''
The Americans may now be wondering when it will be theirs. They entered the Olympics as the hotter team, with four consecutive victories in pre-Olympic play over a Canadian team that appeared to be in disarray.
They also had beaten Canada in the finals at the world championships in four of the past five years. But even with the fastest, deepest and most highly skilled team it ever has brought to the Olympic Games, the U.S. still lost to its archrival for the third time in their four gold-medal showdowns.
A rowdy crowd of 10,639 gasped, hooted and hollered through a tense, thrilling game that never let up. Meghan Duggan scored first for the Americans, picking up a pretty drop pass from Jocelyne Lamoureux and sniping a shot past Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados midway through the second period. Alex Carpenter made it 2-0 with a power-play goal early in the third.
Brianne Jenner got Canada's first goal with 3:26 remaining, knocking a shot off of U.S. defenseman Kacey Bellamy in front of the net. With the goalie pulled for an extra attacker, Stack's clearing shot missed its mark, and Poulin scored shortly after that to force overtime.
The Americans remained calm. "I just looked every girl in the eye and said, 'You guys, we're going to win this game,'' U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. "'Get your heads up. Let's do this.' I thought we responded very well, and I'm proud of us.''
The breakneck pace continued in the overtime. Marvin got a fine chance off a setup from Amanda Kessel, but Szabados blocked it. The two penalties--a slashing call on Jocelyne Lamoureux, and a cross-checking call on Hilary Knight as she chased down Hayley Wickenheiser to stop a breakaway--were too much for the U.S. to overcome.
While the Canadians danced and embraced and draped Maple Leaf flags over their shoulders, the Americans accepted their medals with reddened eyes and heavy hearts.
They were, Stack said, one inch from a gold medal. Now they must wait four more years to try again.
"It will take time (to get over),'' said U.S. defenseman Gigi Marvin. "It's tough. But I'm very, very proud of my teammates. This entire experience represents so much more than these 60 minutes.
"Yes, we wanted to win. Yes, we'll come out of it. But right now, it's just in the hurting process.''
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