Marie-Philip Poulin of Canada, center, celebrates after scoring the game-winning… (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images )
SOCHI, RUSSIA — The puck spun and wobbled as it slid slowly toward the vacated Canadian goal.
As it crossed between the circles, it angled ever-so-slightly to the left, struck the post and bounced back.
That was how close the United States came to sealing the gold medal of the women's hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics on Thursday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. Thirty seconds after the near-miss, that same puck was in the Americans' net and what looked like a dream ending for the U.S. was turning into a nightmare.
Trailing by two goals with under four minutes to play in the third period, Canada shocked the U.S. with two quick strikes and then won it in overtime, 3-2, when Marie-Philip Poulin scored to end another epic chapter in the heated rivalry between North American neighbors.
"That's how you just know it wasn't our night," said Kelli Stack, who had launched the puck from behind her own blue line to the post with her team leading 2-1 with 1:25 remaining. "The puck literally missed going in by an inch. We just have to tell ourselves that everything happens for a reason. If we were meant to win gold medals, that puck would have gone into the back of the net."
It didn't, and after Poulin tied it with 55 seconds remaining in regulation and scored the winner 8:10 into overtime with a shot from the left circle that beat U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter, Canada had won its fourth consecutive women's hockey gold medal.
"I thought it might be an omen for us that we had a good chance when it hit that post," Canada's Natalie Spooner said. "I was like, 'Thank God.' Luckily, Poulin was able to put that goal in to tie it up and put another one in. It was amazing. I can't even explain how hard we worked for this all year and then it actually coming true and winning it. The game, it was so close -- it's kind of unbelievable."
The loss left U.S. players heartbroken and in tears as they watched the Canadian flag being raised higher than their own during the medal ceremony.
"We didn't train for a silver, we trained for a gold medal," Megan Bozek said as she wiped tears.
Captain Meghan Duggan and Alex Carpenter scored for the U.S. to give it a lead that appeared would hold up until a dogged Canadian team struck. First, Brianne Jenner solved Vetter with 3:26 left in regulation to cut the deficit in half and then Poulin went to work to help Canada win its 20th Olympic game in a row.
"Great hockey games come down to inches, bounces of the puck, and we put ourselves in a position to win the game consistently," USA Coach Katey Stone said. "I mean, that's hockey, and I think if you're involved in competitive athletics at a very high level you know what you're getting yourself into and you understand that it's high risk and high reward."
Poulin's winner came on a power play when she gathered a pass from Laura Fortino and flicked a wrist shot past a lunging Vetter to the stick side.
"It's an amazing moment," said Poulin, who scored both goals during Canada's 2-0 win over the U.S. in the gold-medal game of the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
"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."
USA vs. Canada women in the Winter Olympics:
*--* Year Winner Score 1998 United States 3-1 2002 Canada 3-2 2010 Canada 2-0 2014 Canada 3-2 *--*