Their game, their gold, but the Olympic hockey finale between Canada and the U.S. belonged to history before the roars triggered by Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal had faded by so much as a decibel Sunday.
Crosby, whose silence the previous two games had led a nation to brood, took a pass from Jarome Iginla and rifled a shot through the legs of U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller 7 minutes 40 seconds into overtime, giving Canada a 3-2 victory in the last event of perhaps the last Olympic tournament that will include NHL players.
From a packed Canada Hockey Place on the Pacific coast to Crosby’s hometown of Cole Harbour in the eastern province of Nova Scotia, all of Canada rejoiced over reigning supreme over the game that is its passion.
The U.S on Sunday played that game with heart and bruising physicality but Crosby’s brilliance gave his homeland its second gold-medal triumph over the U.S. in their last two encounters, the first occurring at Salt Lake City in 2002.
“You dream of this moment 1,000 times growing up,” he said. “Then to have it come true is pretty amazing.”
He very nearly didn’t get that chance against the persistent Americans.
The U.S. talent pool included no game-breaker like Crosby, who led the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup eight months ago. The team assembled by General Manager Brian Burke and coached by Ron Wilson was, by necessity, built around diligence and role players.
That strategy very nearly succeeded. Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils, among the most gifted U.S. players, took the game to overtime when he converted the rebound of a shot by Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks with 24.4 seconds left in the third period and Miller on the bench in favor of an extra skater.
“We’re a group of young guys that were written off, but we were one shot shy of winning the whole thing,” said Kings defenseman Jack Johnson, a punishing presence every game here. “I wish I could be with these guys all year round. This is the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey.”
They could have kept going all night if not for the collaboration between Iginla and Crosby in the four-on-four, 20-minute overtime period.
Canada had built a 2-0 lead on Jonathan Toews’ rebound of a Mike Richards shot at 12:50 of the first period and Corey Perry’s close-range shot at 7:13 of the second off a pass from Ducks teammate Ryan Getzlaf. Toews’ goal ended a shutout streak of 111:38 over four games for Miller, who received exceptionally warm applause from the crowd during the medal ceremony.
Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks cut that lead in half at 12:44 of the second period. He carried the puck into the zone and passed it to Kane for a shot that Kesler redirected past a lunging Roberto Luongo.
“A bang-bang play,” said Luongo, who was serenaded on each of his 34 saves with cries of “Lou.”
The Canadians, who lost to the U.S. in the first round of the tournament and had to play a qualifying game to reach the quarterfinals, took Parise’s goal as another bump on a twisting road.
“We just got in the room, sat down took a deep breath and said, ‘It’s just a little adversity,’ ” Perry said. “We knew we could come out strong, and it’s a one-shot game from there on. We got that bounce, got that shot.”
With that shot came shiny gold medals and the chance to skate around the ice with a huge Canadian flag. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, a standout at the Games, took a brief spin and handed it off to Canada and Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer. Players who on Monday will again be opponents linked arms for a heartfelt rendition of “O Canada,” brothers for one last time.
There’s no arrangement in place for NHL players to compete in the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, and even if they do, it will be tough for anyone to top Sunday’s golden moment.
“The Olympics is a short, intense tournament and it is a pretty unique opportunity to be standing here,” Niedermayer said after competing in his home province and country.
“It has been a lot of fun playing in front of our fans and competing against all the other great hockey players, the other great teams that were here. It was a great event all the way around.”
Nearly as great for the Americans, too.
“This is something that maybe you can enjoy in a couple of years or at the end of your career,” forward Paul Stastny said, “but part of us is always going to be disappointed that we didn’t get the gold.”