What a comeback! Canada's women top USA for Olympic gold in OT

Team Canada bites into their gold medals as they celebrated beating Team USA in overtime to win the...

Team Canada bites into their gold medals as they celebrated beating Team USA in overtime to win the women's hockey tournament at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb. 20, 2014. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:29 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - To think it came that close to being over.

A wobbling puck bounced off the post of an empty net with 83 seconds left in the game of a lifetime — with Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados on the bench for an extra attacker and an American team, which had played almost perfectly for 57 minutes, up 2-1. The U.S. was that close to Olympic gold.

About 40 minutes later, after improbable scoring, questionable refereeing and stunning shifts in momentum, the Americans were crying and Marie-Philip Poulin, who wrote herself into hockey history, was standing with a Canadian flag and a gold medal around her neck — following a 3-2 win for Canada in the women’s hockey final.

You want to talk big-time players?

Poulin, a 22-year-old from Quebec City, scored the Golden Goal — her second goal of the game and her second gold-medal winning goal. She scored both goals for Canada four years ago in a 2-0 win over the U.S. in Vancouver.

She’s probably tired, but is there any way she could dress for Team Canada in the men’s semifinal against the Americans on Friday?

“It’s an amazing moment,” said Poulin, who was out until January with a high ankle sprain. “We all know it was a team effort. We never gave up. I’m so happy we got it back. It was a great journey.

“To be back here with my jersey on and a gold medal around my neck is the best thing ever.”

Poulin delivered Canada’s fourth Olympic gold medal in a row with a power-play goal at 8:10 of overtime after Kevin Dineen’s team scored two goals in the final three-and-a-half minutes of the third period to tie a game the Americans had wrapped an iron fist around.

Poulin snapped home a shot from the left wing circle behind USA goaltender Jessie Vetter with American Hilary Knight in the penalty box after a bizarre sequence that saw Canadian veteran Hayley Wickenheiser get brushed from behind by Knight on a breakaway. After Wickenheiser fell, British referee Joy Tottman at first appeared to be signalling a penalty shot by pointing to centre ice, then opted to give Knight a cross-checking penalty.

Incredible drama.

Working the left side of a 4-on-3 power play, Poulin scored her second of the night and triggered a wild swarm of red and white as the Canadians celebrated in the corner to Vetter’s right in the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

Team Canada veteran Jayna Hefford, now a four-time gold medallist, said Poulin is the best player in the world.

Dineen agreed.

“There’s something there with (Poulin). She doesn’t speak a lot, but I always kind of catch her eye,” said Dineen. “There’s something in her eye that spells ‘big-game player.’ She showed that in Vancouver. I think she put a major stamp on that today.”

The goal ended a night that soared with drama. Tottman had a lot to do with it, giving the Americans a power play at 6:09 of overtime when Canadian defenceman Catherine Ward ran over an American beside the net and got called for cross-checking. Tottman then evened it up with about as cheap a slashing call as you will see on USA’s Jocelyne Lamoureux, who tapped Szabados’ pads after she made a save.

Then, with the players playing 3-on-3 on the big ice — it looked like they were playing on Lake Superior — Wickenheiser broke away and Knight was given the penalty after they both spilled to the ice.

With Knight in the box, Poulin took a pass from Laura Fortino, turned and buried it.

Minutes later, the players were waving flags thrown to them by Canadians in the stands and listening to an impromptu version of O Canada sung by the crowd.

With less than four minutes to play and the Americans looking like they would win their first gold since Nagano in 1998, Oakville’s Brianne Jenner made a power move on the left wing and banked a shot in off the knee of American defenceman Kacey Bellamy to give Canada some life.

That’s when USA’s Kelli Stack almost ended it with Szabados on the bench for the extra attacker. Her shot at the empty net hit the post, but only after the linesman blocked a Canadian player from chasing it down.

“That’s how you just know that it wasn’t our night,” said Stack. “The puck literally just missed going in by an inch. So we just have to tell ourselves that everything happens for a reason and if we were meant to win gold medals that puck would have went in the back of the net.”

Wickenheiser was just hoping for a break.

“I just said, ‘sweep, sweep it. Get it wide.’ I didn’t think it was going to go in by the angle, but you never know,” she said. “It turned the game around, really gave us another life. I mean, what a finish.”

Poulin tied it with 55 seconds left in the third when a puck glanced off Vetter’s stick and she cut across the net to put it in the far side.

“I think this team is built for pressure. That’s four in a row now,” said Szabados. “I think the more pressure that’s on this team the better we play.”

And leading the way is Poulin, the girl with the Golden Goal and another gold medal.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson

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