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THE HIGHLIGHT WILL BE REPLAYED FOR GENERATIONS. WITH SEVEN MINUTES gone in overtime of the gold medal game, Canada was attacking the U.S. zone on what seemed at first a fruitless charge. Sidney Crosby had the puck knocked off his stick as he tried to sweep through four U.S. players. Instead of quitting on the play, he hustled to corral the puck in the left corner, then protected it from U.S. defenseman Brian Rafalski along the boards as he pushed a short pass to linemate Jarome Iginla. Crosby then took a return feed from Iginla in the lower left circle and in an instant whipped the puck between the skates of U.S. goalie Ryan Miller. Crosby flung his stick away, jumped backward against the sideboards and was engulfed by teammates.
As fast as you can say Paul Henderson, Crosby had entered his name permanently into hockey lore. Fit that man for a statue, get his good side for the postage stamp and, well, his mug should look nice on a new loonie.
One celebration led to another. In the second row of section 306, Wayne Gretzky shared a hug with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. A row below them actor Donald Sutherland played the convincing part of a man having a heart attack. On the ice Canadian players were soon passing a giant national flag among themselves, and then from the stands came a throaty rendition of a fine and familiar tune. Apologies to Roget Doucet, but O Canada had never sounded so sweet.
Many hours later, into early Monday morning, people on the streets near Canada Hockey Place still sang the song and clanged cowbells. Similar festivities unfolded on streets and squares across the country. "To be an Olympic gold medalist, and share it with your family and with Canada, is something I don't even know if you can dream about," said head coach Mike Babcock.
"I've played in some big games in Dallas," said Canada forward and Stars captain Brenden Morrow, who competed in the 2000 Stanley Cup finals, "but I could never imagine anything like this." With the victory Canada tied the former Soviet Union/Unified Team for most men's hockey gold medals, with eight, and also secured Canada's 14th gold medal of the Vancouver Games, establishing the mark for the most golds by a nation at a single Winter Olympics.
The last victory, though, almost slipped away. In the final minute of regulation, with Canada holding a 2-1 lead and the Americans' outstanding netminder, Ryan Miller, off for an extra attacker, U.S. forwards buzzed goalie Roberto Luongo. A shot by Patrick Kane into a tangle of bodies near the net deflected off teammate Jamie Langenbrunner's skate and bounced in front of Luongo. The goalie tried to poke the puck out of the crease, but before he could, U.S. forward Zach Parise swatted it into the net with 24.4 seconds left. Tie game. The arena went suddenly silent, and the Canadian players looked crestfallen. In the locker room a few minutes later, "We were quiet and disappointed," said captain Scott Niedermayer, "but we weren't down. We have a lot of veteran guys, and they've been aware for some time of how much this meant to all the people of Canada."
No, government officials hadn't offered Prince Edward Island and a province to be named later in return for some extra tickets, as one wag suggested, but an Internet resale site was offering seats for $15,000 a pair. (When tickets had gone on sale two years earlier, applications for them were 18 times greater than the supply for the 19,300-seat arena.) Upon being asked to name the best perk for winning gold in the ice dance competition with partner Tessa Virtue six days before the game, Canadian ice dancer Scott Moir said, "Maybe now I can snag a ticket to see the boys play for gold on Sunday."
All the hoopla hardly fazed the young U.S. team, which cut the early-game tension by attacking. Just past eight minutes in, Brooks Orpik checked Canadian forward Dany Heatley into the U.S. team's bench. The American forwards came hard with two and sometimes three forecheckers on every rush, thus putting pressure on a Canadian defense that had been criticized both for being too old (Niedermayer, Dan Boyle and Chris Pronger) and too raw (Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Brent Seabrook). The U.S. also threw shots at Luongo from odd angles. Although he looked vulnerable at times, Luongo made 34 stops in his career's signature game.
Despite the Americans' aggressive start, Canada broke out ahead, as Jonathan Toews whacked a rebound of a Mike Richards shot past Miller 12:50 into the first period. At age 21 Toews had been rising to the moment throughout the Games. Team Canada G.M. Steve Yzerman admitted later that when he originally named the Blackhawk to his roster, he thought that it might require a teammate's getting injured or scratched for Toews to get into the regular lineup and then off Canada's fourth line. Yet Toews finished the tournament as a +9 and was selected as the outstanding forward of the Games.
The final provided a little individual tête-à-tête. Seven minutes into the second period, Canada's Corey Perry snapped a shot past Miller to make it 2-0. In Canada's preliminary-round loss to the U.S., Perry had been beaten to the puck late in the game, enabling Ryan Kesler to score the U.S.'s empty-net goal. Now, about five minutes after Perry's goal, Kesler responded, halving the lead by deflecting a Kane shot past Luongo.