VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- A civic treasure took down the national team.
Sidney Crosby, scoring the overtime goal of one of the great games in hockey history, catapulted Canada over the United States, 3-2, for Olympic gold Sunday at Canada Hockey Place. It came with a quick flick of the wrists 7:40 into the extra period, and it cost a valiant group of Americans their greatest triumph since the Miracle on Ice.
For the Americans, it brought a silver medal few expected, given the tournament's youngest roster.
"Maybe when you're a little older and, when your career's over, this will feel nice," U.S. left winger Ryan Malone, the Upper St. Clair native, said. "But we came here for the gold, and we were right there. We're disappointed."
For people watching in Pittsburgh, it surely brought mixed emotions.
U.S. defenseman Brooks Orpik, Crosby's teammate with the Penguins, might have summed up such sentiments best: "You never want to lose. But, if you're going to lose, I'm happy Sid had success."
And for Crosby ...
Well, where to start?
He arrived in Vancouver as nothing less than the anointed star of the XXI Winter Olympics. Steve Yzerman, Canada's general manager, publicly called Crosby "the face" of the team, and several of Crosby's teammates shared that stance, all comfortable with a 22-year-old carrying the hopes of a hockey-mad citizenry.
No one looked more comfortable with that, predictably, than Crosby: He answered the bulk of the Canadian reporters' relentless questions about "pressure," led some of the team's stretches and drills in practice even though defenseman Scott Niedermayer was captain and, in the end, he delivered the first sudden-death overtime goal in Olympic gold-medal history.
Perhaps fittingly, Crosby was among the last athletes at these Olympics to have a gold medal draped around his or her neck, standing at the climactic end of Canada's podium line.
Jacques Rogge, head of the International Olympic Committee, decorated the players himself, as is customary for hockey on the Games' final day, and he could not resist becoming part of the moment with Crosby: As the crowd roared with the announcement of Crosby's name, the usually staid Rogge playfully made a raise-the-roof motion with his right hand to encourage still more adulation.
Even for someone who already has won a Stanley Cup, an MVP honor and an NHL scoring title, this was at another level: This was the world watching. This was an entire country breathing down his neck. (Imagine if Canada had lost, and Crosby had no points in his final three games, which would have been the case with a U.S. overtime goal.)
Crosby reiterated his long-held view that this prize was "different than the Cup," but added, "Every kid dreams of this opportunity, of being the one to score that goal for his country. It's a pretty unbelievable thing."
He then quickly -- and characteristically -- moved back into team-first mode.
"It could have been anybody in that room with all the talent we had here. Everybody worked really hard, and we wanted this one for all of Canada. I never saw myself as the guy, the one who had to get it done."
He mentioned, too, that the gold was Canada's 14th, setting a Winter Olympics record for any nation.
"I'm as proud of us setting that record as anything. It's been a great experience all around, with all our great athletes."
Without a doubt, given hockey's stature here, Crosby will be celebrated more than any.
Just ask Yzerman, who correctly identified him as Canada's focal point.
"Sid's got a little destiny to him," Yzerman said. "His entire career, throughout minor hockey, junior hockey, the NHL and now this ... it's just another monumental moment in his career. And he's what, 22 still? He's a special, special guy."
"That's Sid for you," Canada forward Ryan Getzlaf said. "There's a reason he's the best player in the world. He always shows up in those big moments and scores those big goals."
The quality of the game itself, given the rosters, the stakes and the relentless drama, might be celebrated just as much.
As Orpik put it, "It was a great game for hockey in general."
The matchup had the U.S. at 5-0 against a Canadian collection that was as stacked as any in hockey history. And what made this one immediately compelling was that, unlike the teams' preliminary round meeting that had been stolen by U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller, the Americans were the Canadians' equal from the opening faceoff.
"They played a great game, but I think we played an equally great game," U.S. coach Ron Wilson said. "It's just a shame both teams couldn't receive a gold medal here."
Canada had a 2-0 lead midway through the second period on rebound goals by Jonathan Toews and Corey Perry, and the U.S. was getting stoned by goaltender Roberto Luongo. But Ryan Kesler broke through with a deflection goal later in the second and, after pressing all through the third, the Americans' perseverance was rewarded with 24.4 seconds left when Zach Parise buried a loose puck behind Luongo.
Parise pumped his arms wildly and was mobbed by teammates, and the Americans talked during the next intermission about gold.
"When that happens, you believe," Parise said. "What a feeling when we got that goal, and we just wanted it to last."
The game went to overtime, the first for Olympic gold since Sweden's shootout triumph in 1994, and the Canadians -- despite being older and playing a fifth game in seven days, one more than the U.S -- found an extra gear in the four-on-four format and pressed the attack.
Crosby and his linemate, Jarome Iginla, forecheck the U.S. along the left boards and, after Iginla fed Crosby just below the left dot, Crosby, without looking, just whipped the puck toward the net ... and through Miller's pads.
Once Crosby heard the crowd's roar -- "I never saw it go in," he said -- he threw both gloves high into the air and was crushed against the corner glass by the entire Canadian roster.
The Americans, meanwhile, went to quietly congratulate Miller, later named the tournament's most valuable player. Some later leaned over the bench, heads down, faces long.
"There will be a consolation someday," Orpik said. "You go back a couple years ago when we lost in the Stanley Cup final in Pittsburgh. There's an initial sting, but it changes. When you let the dust settle and have a chance to reflect, I think this group is going to be pretty proud of what we accomplished. Coming into this, no one was even giving us a chance to medal."
This was the Americans' second silver in the Olympics since the NHL began participating in 1998. The other came in 2002 at Salt Lake City, also in a loss to Canada.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Mar. 2, 2010) Sidney Crosby was not the last athlete at the Vancouver Olympics to have a gold medal draped around his neck, as reported in this story as originally published Mar. 1, 2010. Norway's Petter Northug, who won the men's 50-kilometer cross-country race, was awarded his gold medal at the closing ceremonies.