ADLER, Russia - Never count Canada out. Never.
When it looked like the United States was going to put an end to Canada's three straight Olympic women's ice hockey championships in Thursday's gold medal matchup at the Sochi Winter Games, a remarkable turn of events helped the Canadians claim a 3-2 overtime victory to win the tournament for the fourth time in a row.
The Canadians erased a 2-0 deficit by scoring twice during the final four minutes of regulation. They also caught a break when a puck bounced off the post of their empty net after they pulled goaltender Shannon Szabados in favor of an extra attacker.
U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter makes a stick save while teammate Kacey Bellamy defends Canada's Natalie Spooner.
(Enterprise photo - Lou Reuter)
Marie-Philip Poulin turned out to be a big hero for Canada. She notched the tying goal with 55 seconds remaining in the third period to force overtime, and then buried the game winner on a power play 8:10 into the sudden-death period.
The Americans appeared in control for much of the contest. After a scoreless first period, Meghan Duggan gave the U.S. a 1-0 edge when she scored the only goal of the second stanza, and Alex Carpenter then upped the lead to 2-0 with a goal 2:01 into the third. At that point, it appeared momentum was on the side of the U.S.
That, however, came crashing down later as Canada rallied to send the U.S. to what was arguably its most heartbreaking loss in women's Olympic hockey history.
"There really isn't much to say. You can't take the sting away," U.S. head coach Katey Stone said after the game. "This is very difficult. Great hockey games come down to inches and bounces of the puck, and we put ourselves in position to win consistently. When you play for a gold medal, it's high risk and high reward.
"I'm just proud of our players," Stone added. "When the game got tied, they left it out there. They went after it, and there's not much more you can ask of your players. It's unfortunate the way things unfolded, but I'm certainly very proud of our players."
"This goes down for one for the ages," Canada head coach Kevin Dineen said. "For me, I'm a big believer that when your are a coach, and you have talent and good character, a lot of special things happen. That was a special thing."
The U.S. opened the game with a flurry to generate some solid scoring chances, and Szabados came up with some big saves early to keep the Americans off the board. Duggan broke the scoreless deadlock at the 11:57 mark of the second, sending home a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle on a play assisted by Jocelyne Lamoureux.
Carpenter's goal, giving the U.S. a 2-0 lead, came on a power play. Skating toward the net on the right side, she picked up a pass from Hilary Knight and wristed a shot that deflected off the right goal post and into the back of the net.
Down 2-0, Canada went on the offensive. Brianne Jenner netted the Canadians' first goal with 3:26 left in regulation to make it a 2-1 contest. On the play, Jenner launched a wrist shot from the left wing and the puck deflected off a U.S. defender who was in front of the net and past goaltender Jessie Vetter.
The drama then grew. After giving up a goal, the Americans were looking at an empty net after Szabados was pulled with just under two minutes left in the third period. And with 1:25 remaining, Americans nearly sealed a long-awaited victory when forward Kelli Stack picked off a pass inside the U.S. blue line and fluttered the puck down the ice. The puck appeared to be heading wide to the right side of the unguarded net and then slowly bended its way back toward the goal. But instead of going in the net to give the Americans back a two-goal edge, the puck bounced off the right post and was scooped up and out of danger by Canada's Meghan Agosta. Poulin scored 30 seconds later to tied the game and send the Canadian fans in the stands into a frenzy. Poulin's goal came on a play when Vetter attempted to clear a puck that bounced off the back boards, but it landed on her stick and she buried a shot from the right side from in close.
The Americans opened the overtime just like they did the game by pouring on the pressure in Canada's end of the rink. They even had the benefit of a power-play opportunity 6:09 into sudden death, which was played with four skaters on the ice for each team. After failing to capitalize, the U.S. wound up with two players in the penalty box, and Poulin netted the game winner on a four-on-three situation.
The only gold medal the U.S. has won in women's ice hockey at the Olympics was in Nagano, Japan in 1998, when the sport was first added to the winter games. Canada has claimed it each Olympics since then.
"We came out flying in overtime, but unfortunately, they took advantage of a power play that they got," said Vetter, who made 28 saves in the game. "We played a great game, and I'm proud of our team. We battled hard. At the end of the day, we'll be happy with how we played and enjoy our silver medal."