VANCOUVER – Sidney Crosby scored at 7:40 in overtime off a lovely pass from Jarome Iginla to give Canada gold on home ice. Crosby's quick, low shot beat Ryan Miller to give Canada a 3-2 win.
Likely the single-most anticipated game since hockey was brought indoors in 1875, this remarkable contest lived up to and exceeded its buildup.
"Every kid dreams of this opportunity (to score the game winning goal in the Olympics)," said Crosby, "and any guy in that room could have done it. Doing it in Canada is the opportunity of a lifetime. You dream of that moment a thousand times growing up."
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Crosby had been eerily quiet all game – the past three games, in fact – but as usual he elevated his game to extraordinary heights at the exact moment required. In retrospect, who else could have scored the gold-medal-winning goal?
Jonathan Toews and Corey Perry scored for Canada and Ryan Kesler and Zach Parise for the United States in regulation before teams came back out for 20 minutes of sudden death 4-on-4 hockey.
The game featured two teams with almost identical styles of play, but on this day there was a twist. Both teams like to get the puck deep into enemy territory, chase it down, and cycle the puck to generate scoring chances.
The twist was that American coach Ron Wilson clearly told his players before the game to shoot the puck whenever, wherever the chance presented itself. In other words, make Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo handle the puck as much as possible.
As for the two NHL referees – Bill McCreary and Dan O’Halloran – they let the North Americans play a physical game, knowing that these quality players, appearing in the game of their lives, would not resort to cheap shots. “Let ‘em play” was the order of the day, and with gold on the line, rightly so.
Canada opened the scoring at 12:50 on a harmless-looking play. The Americans won a faceoff deep in their own end and had the puck behind their net when Mike Richards checked Eric Johnson off the puck. Richards came out front with a shot which Ryan Miller saved, but the goalie didn’t control the rebound. Jonathan Toews snapped it home for the early and critical 1-0 lead. It was exactly the kind of play for which Richards was named to the team by executive director Steve Yzerman.
The period was marked by good scoring chances at both ends but also by many whistles and sometimes nervous play, and it ended with Canada in a slim lead.
Canada got an early power lay in the second off a sloppy high sticking penalty by Ryan Malone at the Canadian blue line but although there was good puck possession, there was no second goal. Moments later, Eric Staal was called for interference, and the Canadians had their first penalty-killing situation.
They passed with flying colours – and then got that vital second goal. Getzlaf came down the left side and tried to throw the puck in front, but the puck caromed off Ryan Whitney back to Corey Perry who had a whole open side as Miller was playing the initial pass. He made no mistake, and at 7:13 it was a 2-0 game.
The Americans got another power play moments later and came close with open play to the net, but Patrice Bergeron and Rick Nash led the penalty killers. After that, it was end-to-end action, heart-throbbing for fans of both teams.
And then it happened. At 12:44 the Americans got one back after a simple shot along the boards by Patrick Kane was redirected past Luongo who got a piece of the shot, but not all of it. On the next shift, Zach Parise took a stretch pass down the left side and had another great chance. The Canadians’ invincibility so far in the game was now in doubt, as was the game.
As in the first, there were great scoring chances, huge amounts of action around the crease of the two goalies, and no more goals. Canada was now 20 minutes from gold with a 2-1 lead, but it was a tenuous lead. The American speed to the outside was obvious, but Canada’s strength up the middle was also very much in evidence. The best chance in the later part of the period came when Staal took a long pass from Dan Boyle and shot over the net on a clear breakaway.
One shot, one bounce could ensure victory for Canada or start an American comeback. That shot nearly came early in the third when a Chris Pronger point shot rattled off the post while Miller was screened. But still, the score remained the same.
Canada sat on the lead for the rest of the period, and it almost worked. But with Miller on the bench, Parise knocked in a loose puck from in front of Luongo's crease to force overtime.
"With 24 seconds left, we were obviously celebrating," Getzlaf admitted, "but our guys did a great job of believing and staying poised."
Said Staal: "We've got so many guys that have been through the Stanley Cups, Game Sevens, situations like that. We knew we just had to get back at it. There's nothing you can do. It's in the past. Obviously it was tough to give up that goal. At the end of the third, we just said: “It's going to feel even better when we win it in overtime.” I'm sure it did for every Canadian out there."
Captain Scott Niedermayer agreed: "Lots of guys stepped up, and everybody kept their composure. We knew what we had to do: continue to go out and play our game, and just believe that it was going to happen."
Canada dominated the overtime, and when Crosby and Iginla came out they worked the puck along the left-wing boards. Crosby got the puck in the corner to Iginla and went to the net, shouting for the puck. "There was a certain urgency in his voice," Iginla said later, "so I just tried to get it to him before it was too late." Crosby's quick one-timer beat Miller cleanly, and an entire nation ran into the streets to celebrate the greatest goal since Paul Henderson's defining score in 1972.
"A few years down the road we will be proud of it but not right now," said Dustin Brown. "We had good momentum and had one breakdown and they capitalized."