VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Sidney Crosby never even saw his historic shot slip under U.S. goalie Ryan Miller and into the back of the net. It was the 17,748 fans who told him it was time to celebrate something he had envisioned as a kid growing up in Nova Scotia.
Crosby's overtime goal gave Canada a 3-2 victory over the Americans, and the country's first men's hockey gold medal ever on home soil. The nation's now unquestioned favorite son earned chants of "Cros-by! Cros-by!" during the medal ceremony.
"Every kid dreams of that opportunity," said Crosby, 22. "It could have been any other guy in that room. You never know when you're going to get a chance, and obviously being in Canada, it's an opportunity of a lifetime to play in the Olympics and try and win a gold medal. You dream of that moment a thousand times growing up, and for it to come true is pretty amazing."
In what already is being called one of the greatest hockey games in Olympic history, it took everything the Canadians had... and then 7 minutes, 40 seconds more to set off a celebration the country had anticipated since the Games began.
The Canadians have been quick to remind everyone here that they invented hockey. Many in attendance Sunday held up signs that read: Hockey Is Canada's Game. They expected the gold medal to be theirs, too.
It was only a week ago that the country had gone into mourning after the upstart Americans beat Canada 5-3, putting even more pressure on Team Canada to deliver Sunday.
"There was a lot of expectations, but we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, too," said Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow, who had two goals and an assist in Canada's seven games. "We knew what we could do if we went out and executed. We had all the skill in the world, but we needed to put our will ahead of our skill. We did that, and we were successful. Now, we're going to celebrate."
The Canadians had expected their celebration to begin earlier than it did.
In a game it never trailed, Team Canada led 2-1 with time winding down. The fans were on their feet counting down when the son of a former Team Canada player got the Americans back in it.
With Miller off the ice for an extra attacker, Zach Parise — whose father, J.P. Parise, played on Canada's Summit Series team in 1972 — tied it. Patrick Kane's shot from the high slot deflected off Jamie Langenbrunner to Parise, who sent the rebound past Roberto Luongo with 24.4 seconds remaining in the third period.
"We were confident all game that we were going to win," Parise said. "We had a chance. We put ourselves in a good situation ... It's just disappointing to lose in overtime."
The Americans, with an average age of 26.5 years, hadn't even been expected to medal. But Miller, the Buffalo Sabres' goaltender, was the tournament's MVP with a .969.9686 save percentage in six games. He gave up only eight goals.
"Without him, we wouldn't be here," U.S. defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
Miller had 36 saves in the gold-medal game, but he left wishing he had had at least one more as Crosby wristed the game-winner past him in overtime.
Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins center who led his team to the Stanley Cup last season, had been quiet much of the tournament and most of the game. But he lived up to his nickname — The Next One — when it mattered most.
He yelled urgently for teammate Jarome Iginla to pass him the puck, which Crosby fired past Miller. It was the shot heard 'round Canada.
Crosby spontaneously threw his mouthpiece and his stick and leaped into the air. As the other Canadian players rushed over to cover Crosby in a dogpile, Miller buried his head in the ice.
The Americans, even after the loss, insisted that the best team wasn't necessarily the one wearing the gold medals. They stood despondent as the Canadians received their medals, hands on their hips, staring at the ice.
"We proved that it's not just Canada's game," U.S. forward Ryan Kesler said. "We beat them once already, and it was anybody's game in overtime today. You've got to give them their respect, and they played a good game, but I thought we played pretty well, too."
It was an Olympic record 14th gold medal for Canada, while the U.S. set an Olympic record for the most medals in a single Winter Games with 37.