SOCHI, Russia — They were shut out in one gold medal game, blindsided by the Swedes in the semifinals and watched a 35-game winning streak swirl down the drain at the Olympics.
American women hockey players have endured incredible heartbreak when the stakes were highest, but this? Blowing a two-goal lead Thursday with less than four minutes to go until the medal ceremony?
It might take 16 more years for the program to recover.
Marie-Philip Poulin's second goal of the game, a 4-on-3 power-play marker 8:10 into overtime, secured Canada's fourth consecutive gold medal triumph since Team USA won the initial Olympic championship in 1998.
This was a comeback and meltdown for the ages.
“It's really hard to swallow right now, a tough one for sure,” said U.S. forward Jocelyn Lamoureux. “It sucks.”
Lamoureux was in the penalty box after being whistled off for slashing, banished for trying to whack a loose puck from Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados' pads. Asked whether British referee Joy Tottman made a bad call, Lamoureux demurred — somewhat.
“I don't want to say that myself but I would agree with that, especially when (Szabados) didn't have it,” Lamoureux said. “It was between her knees.”
It was a game filled with gripes from the bench by both coaches and several huddles among officials. Asked about the officiating, U.S. coach Katey Stone offered a stiff “No comment.”
Regardless, Team USA had plenty for which to answer after settling for silver medals for the third time in four Olympics.
It held a 2-0 lead on goals by Meghan Duggan midway through the second period and Alex Carpenter at 2:01 of third. The Americans steadily made the safe plays, carefully working pucks out of danger and dumping them back into Canada's zone to protect what should have been a commanding lead.
However Brianne Jenner sparked Canada's revival when her shot ricocheted off a leg past U.S. netminder Jessie Vetter with 3:26 remaining.
The crowd of 10,639 at Bolshoy Ice Dome, which had been equally supportive of both teams, suddenly erupted and adopted the Canadians, likely rooting as much for a tying goal and extended play.
Poulin gave them what they wanted.
With Szabados pulled for the extra attacker, Poulin pounced on a loose puck at the top of the crease and banged it into a wide-open net with 54.6 seconds remaining, touching off an even wilder celebration.
Moments earlier U.S. forward Kelli Stack had almost iced it. Her clearing shot around a linesman near the U.S. blue line tumbled 150 feet down the ice toward Canada's empty net only to clank harmlessly off the right goal post with 1:24 remaining.
“Yeah, unlucky,” said Lamoureux. “They played really desperate. Couple big bounces helped them. It was a tough one.”
Stunned heading to overtime, Team USA managed to recover during the intermission and came out flying 4-on-4, using its speed to create several scoring chances.
But Szabados, whose 2-0 shutout four years ago in Vancouver vanquished the Americans, withstood the early barrage, making a snazzy glove save on defenseman Gigi Marvin to set the stage for Poulin's heroics.
Poulin crashed the net and finished a fine three-way passing play with veteran Hayley Wickenheiser and Laura Fortino.
“It was a great play by Wick and Fortino,” Poulin said. “They gave it to me right on the tape and I tried to shoot it right away.”
In 2006, unheralded Sweden shocked Team USA with a 3-2 shootout victory in Turin, Italy. Four years earlier at Salt Lake City, the United States ran its winning streak to 35 games, including a 9-0 run against Canada, into the gold medal game, which the Canadians swiped in another one-goal thriller.
Marvin, a former Gophers star from Warroad, Minn., lauded her team's play and lamented how once again this epic rivalry came down to one goal.
“There were different moments within a game you hope to shut down and eliminate. They capitalized,” she said. “They put the puck in the net but I'm very, very proud of every one of my teammates. This entire experience represents more than just 60 minutes. Yes, we wanted to win. Yes, good will come out of it. Right now, it's the hurting process.”
No U.S. player has endured more misery than forward Julie Chu. The former Harvard standout won the 2008 NCAA title as an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Chu is 31 and the team's oldest player, who has chased gold that has eluded her for four Olympics. She was asked how to begin processing this loss.
“Ask me in couple days,” she said. “Again I keep going back to the team. They're my strength. They're the reason I continue to battle and work so hard and try to dedicate my entire life to this process playing a sport I absolutely love on a team full of passionate, amazing women.”
Not five feet away, Canadian defenseman Natalie Spooner came bounding into the media mixed zone full of joy.
“This is an amazing dream come true!” she yelled to anyone and everyone. “I can't even imagine how this would ever happen. I'm so happy. I'm speechless.”