The United States was less than four minutes away from its first gold medal in Olympic women's ice hockey since the sport was formally inaugurated in 1998 in Nagano.
Then it all fell apart in the third period on Thursday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia in the gold medal game of the XXII Winter Olympics.
With the Americans ahead by a 2-0 score, Brianne Jenner (Cornell) got the Canadians on the board with 3:26 remaining in regulation. Marie-Philip Poulin then scored with just 55 seconds left to forge an improbable tie after the U.S. had nearly put the puck into an empty Canadian net.
In overtime, it was Poulin doing the damage once more, beating U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter (Wisconsin) at 8:10 of sudden death on a power play to give Canada its fourth straight Olympic women's hockey gold medal.
The winning power play came about when Hilary Knight (Wisconsin) upended the ageless Hayley Wickenheiser on a breakaway for Canada. Both teams had a power play in overtime—but only Canada converted.
Poulin had previously victimized the U.S. four years ago in Vancouver, scoring both goals in Canada's 2-0 win in the 2010 title game when she was just 18. This one, from the American standpoint, had to be far, far worse.
Megan Duggan (Wisconsin) staked the U.S to a 1-0 lead on Thursday at 11:57 of the second period, and Alex Carpenter (Boston College) made it 2-0 with just under 18 minutes remaining in regulation on a power play. The U.S. hit a post in the final minute with Canadian goalie Shannon Szbados (27 saves) pulled for an extra attacker that would have iced the contest, although a Canadian defender got tied up with an official on the play. Poulin tied it, then won it.
Canada outshot the U.S., 31-29, on the evening, as Vetter, a three-time NCAA champion, finished with 28 stops.
Tomorrow, Canada and the U.S. will be back at it, on the men’s side, when those Olympic NHL squads face off in a semifinal, four years after playing each other for gold.
Once again, for the fourth time in five Olympics, the American women will go home with silver medals.
But just like Salt Lake and Vancouver before, and now Sochi, so short.