SOCHI, Russia — A two-goal lead blown in the final four minutes. A long shot that clanged off the post of an empty net. Two perplexing penalties in overtime, setting up a golden goal for Canada.
The U.S. women's hockey team has lost late in the past four Olympics but never in such heartbreaking fashion as its 3-2 defeat on Thursday.
While the Canadians received their fourth straight gold medals, the Americans were left blank-faced or crying at Bolshoy Ice Dome. Sixteen years after the United States won the inaugural Olympic tournament, these Americans thought Canada's Olympic mastery over them had finally waned.
Instead, the Americans have four more years to think about how the Canadians managed to seize their sport's biggest moment while the United States got left holding silver for the third time in four gold-medal games between the countries.
"To let them come back in the gold-medal game at the Olympics is the worst feeling in the world," said Kelli Stack, who nearly became a hero with a long clearing attempt that hit the right post of an empty net late in regulation with the Americans leading 2-1.
While going for the puck in the U.S. end, Canadian defenseman Catherine Ward collided with an official along the right boards. That allowed Stack to swoop in and shoot the puck toward Canada's net in the waning seconds.
Stack knew she wouldn't score. She could tell the puck was going to hit the post even before the clunk of rubber against metal. "If it would have been an inch to the right, it would have went in, and we would have won the gold medal," said Stack, shaking her head. "When pucks don't bounce your way, you've just got to know that it wasn't meant to be."
Said Canadian captain Caroline Ouellette, "There is a God."
Everything seemed dramatically different in the first 56 minutes. With a 2-0 lead, U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter appeared to be eminently capable of shutting out Canada for the first time in Olympic history.
"I just kept thinking 'We're going to win,' " U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. "I said, 'There's no way they're going to score two goals on 'Vetts.' She's hot right now.' "
What happened next is what Duggan calls "crazy mode," those frantic final minutes when the goalie skates to the bench and her teammates try anything to will the puck into the net.
Canada's Brianne Jenner scored with 3:26 to play, banking a wide-flying shot off U.S. defenseman Kacey Bellamy's knee. "Bad puck luck," Bellamy said.
Canadian forward Marie-Philip Poulin's tying goal was another bad break: Vetter attempted a poke-check after the puck came out from behind the net, but it went straight to Poulin.
Even during the break before overtime, the Americans remained confident.
Then in overtime, the whistles started. Neither team could understand the referees' eagerness to call penalties in an Olympic overtime, which is already four-on-four hockey. Six seconds after Canadian defenseman Catherine Ward was sent off for a big hit near the net, American forward Jocelyne Lamoureux was penalized for slashing on a single whack at goalie Shannon Szabados' pads with the puck underneath them.
"It stinks to go into an overtime in an up-and-down game and have so many penalties called," Stack said.
Moments later, during three-on-three play, a bad U.S. line change gave a breakaway to Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser. American Hilary Knight swooped in from behind, and Wickenheiser tumbled to the ice.
The officials curiously called Knight for cross-checking instead of either awarding a penalty shot or allowing play to continue. Replays showed no significant contact between the two, except perhaps Knight's right skate clipping Wickenheiser's from behind, which isn't cross-checking.
"I didn't touch her," Knight said. "She fell. That was a bogus call. But it's not about any one call."
Said Wickenheiser: "The ref was a factor all night, and it worked out for our favor in the end."
Poulin — who scored both goals in Canada's 2-0 2010 gold-medal win — ended the game 39 seconds later.
Information from nbcolympics.com was used in this report.
First—No scoring. Penalties—Tara Watchorn, Can (body-check); Meaghan Mikkelson, Can (roughing); Hilary Knight, U.S. (cross-check); Watchorn, Can (trip); Kacey Bellamy, U.S. (hold).
Second—1, U.S., Meghan Duggan (Jocelyne Lamoureux), 11:57. Penalties—Kelli Stack, U.S. (hook); Anne Schleper, U.S. (cross-check).
Third—2, U.S., Alex Carpenter (Hilary Knight, Kelli Stack), 2:01 (pp). 3, Can, Brianne Jenner (Meaghan Mikkelson, Jocelyne Larocque), 16:34. 4, Can, Marie-Philip Poulin (Rebecca Johnston, Haley Irwin), 19:05. Penalties—Tara Watchorn, Can (trip).
OT—5, Can, Poulin (Laura Fortino), 8:10 (pp). Penalties—Catherine Ward, Can (cross-check); Jocelyne Lamoureux, U.S. (slash); Hilary Knight, U.S. (cross-check). SOG—U.S. 11-5-8-5—29. Can 9-8-10-4—31. Goalies—U.S., Jessie Vetter. Can, Shannon Szabados. Ref—Joy Tottman, Britain. Linesmen—Ilona Novotna, Czech Republic; Zuzana Svobodova, Czech Republic; Mikhail Buturlin, Russia; Roman Gofman, Russia.