VANCOUVER — With Canada needing someone to take charge on the final stage of the Vancouver Olympics, Sidney Crosby stepped up with a truly golden goal.
A nation holding its breath watched as Crosby whipped a low shot between Ryan Miller’s legs seven minutes 40 seconds into overtime of a gripping final to give Team Canada a 3-2 win over the United States and the last medal of the Vancouver Games.
Then the celebration began — across the country.
“I dreamed of this moment,” said the 22-year-old Crosby, who has an Olympic gold to go with his Stanley Cup. “It’s pretty incredible.”
Playing 4-on-4, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain did much of the work on the winning goal, bringing the puck in and then digging out it on the forecheck. Veteran Jarome Iginla found Crosby near the net and No. 87 slapped the puck past Miller, sending a sea of fans clad in Canadian red-and-white into a seething frenzy.
“We wanted to go after it,” he said of the overtime strategy. “We didn’t want to have any regrets.”
The gold was Canada’s 26th medal of the Games (14 gold, seven silver, five bronze) as the host country finished third in the overall medal standings behind the U.S. with 37 (9-15-13) and Germany with 30 (10-13-7).
At Canada Hockey Place, the U.S. outshot Canada 36-34.
“I thought we deserved better but that’s what happens in overtime,” said American Ryan Kesler, who plays for the Vancouver Canucks.
Jonathan Toews and Corey Perry gave Canada’s big and talent-rich team an early lead before Kesler got one on a deflection in the second period for the U.S.
A wild end to regulation time saw Miller pulled in favour of an extra attacker with 1:30 left to play.
Zach Parise, the Americans’ best forward in the tournament, tied the game and forced a 20-minute overtime with 25 seconds to play, as Patrick Kane’s shot went off Jamie Langenbrunner’s skate to the front of the net where Parise slipped it past Roberto Luongo.
“Our team worked unbelievably hard and today was really tough, especially when they got the goal in regulation,” Crosby said. “But we came back and we got it in overtime. It’s just a dream for us.”
Crosby said it was quiet in the dressing room before the overtime period.
“There wasn’t much said,” he said. “We weren’t happy obviously when we were 24 seconds away. Once we got past that during the intermission, we said, ’You know what? We’ve still got a chance here.’ That was the message.”
Asked what head coach Mike Babcock told them, Crosby said: “Just put the puck on net.”
And that’s what they did. The Canadians stormed out for the overtime and Crosby, who had been held without a point for two games, came through for the win.
“He was taking a lot of heat during the tournament, for whatever reason but it sure is fitting he gets it,” Canadian forward Patrick Marleau said of the Crosby’s winning goal.
Before the game, Crosby received a brief text message from Penguins owner Mario Lemieux that said: “Good luck.”
After receiving their medals, the Canadians took turns skating around the ice with a giant Canadian flag.
The young Americans, who were unbeaten going into the game, were left looking for the silver lining.
“We proved it’s not just Canada’s game,” said Kesler.
It’s Canada’s 14th gold of the Vancouver Games, breaking the record for most gold medals at a Winter Olympics. The Soviet Union, in 1976, and Norway, in 2002, each won 13.
The gold was also Canada’s eighth in men’s hockey at the Games — and the first since Team Canada defeated the host Americans 5-2 at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
The Canadian women’s team won hockey gold Thursday, defeating the U.S. 2-0.
Toews and Perry spotted Canada a 2-0 lead before Kesler scored on a deflection in the second period for the U.S.
The packed stands at Canada Hockey Place were like a giant party for flag- and sign-waving revellers.
The Canadian men did it in a game that outmatched even a Stanley Cup final in pace and ferocity, as thundering hits were made on both sides and the NHL referees mostly kept their whistles in their pockets and let the teams battle.
As in 2002 in Salt Lake City, Canada took gold in both men’s and women’s hockey — this time in the first Olympic tournament held on the smaller NHL-size ice surface.
The Canadian team looked to be in trouble after losing 5-3 to the U.S. in their final preliminary round game a week earlier.
But as they did in Salt Lake, they improved with each game and found the cohesion and intensity to claw their way into the final and a chance to avenge the loss to the fast but less-skilled Americans and their quick-legged Miller, who took a 1.04 goals-against average into the final.
The U.S. win in round-robin play forced Canada to play an extra elimination round game. Even though that was an easy 8-2 win over German, the sense was that the youthful American team would be fresher in the third period of the final and they were.
But in a wild third, Canada’s Shea Weber and Chris Pronger hit goalposts in the first two minutes, Dany Heatley just failed to lift a puck over sprawled Miller 10 minutes in, and Crosby, held without a point in the final three games, lost the handle on the puck on a late breakaway thanks to determined backchecking from Kane.
At the other end, Luongo held his ground and the defence kept shooters out of the goal area in a bid to preserve the win.
The opening minutes of the game saw heavy hitting from both sides, particularly U.S. defenceman Brooks Orpik who nearly put Heatley into the players bench, but Canada did not allow the Americans to establish pressure in their zone.
Toews connected 12:50 into the game as the Chicago centre and Mike Richards combined to win battles for the puck near the net against Erik Johnson and Paul Stastny and Richards pushed it to Toews for high shot from in close.
It was the first of the tournament for perhaps Canada’s most consistent forward and marked the first time the U.S. had trailed in a game.
Canada had just completed its first penalty kill when Ryan Getzlaf skated into the U.S. and zone and saw his pass go off Ryan Whitney’s skate to Perry alone in front for a quick shot and his fourth goal at 8:25.
Just as the raucous crowd began to party in the seats, the U.S. struck back as Kane snapped a shot that went off the shaft of Kesler’s stick and trickled through Luongo’s equipment at 12:44.
Between periods, Kesler told a TV interviewer he felt his Vancouver teammate Luongo was fighting the puck, as he had in previous games.
Canada became the first country to win hockey gold on home ice since the American Miracle On Ice team from the 1980 Games in Lake Placid.
Both referees Bill McCreary and Dan O’Halloran, as well as linesman Jean Morin are Canadian. The other linesman was Stefan Fonselius of Finland.
The full house was also packed with celebrities, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, singers Neil Young and Bryan Adams, actors William Shatner and Vince Vaughn, and from the sports world, golfer Mike Weir and hockey greats Gordie Howe and Mark Messier.
Notes — It was the 17th meeting between Canada and the U.S. in Olympic history. Canada leads the series (10-3-3). . . Babcock wore his lucky McGill University tie for the game. He is (5-2) all-time with the tie, with both losses in overtime. . . In the pre-game warmup, Crosby stopped to tie a skate lace and his former Pittsburgh teammate, American Ryan Malone, slid a couple pucks toward him to try to hit his gloves on the ice. Malone smiled, Crosby didn’t react.