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VANCOUVER -- Step aside Paul Henderson, you no longer have the most important goal in Canadian hockey history.
Thirty-eight years after Henderson's goal in Moscow clinched a Summit Series victory for Canada, Sidney Crosby became the newest sports uber-hero in his country.
Isn't that just fitting?
"Sid The Kid" has been Canada's most visible and important athlete since Wayne Gretzky and he stamped his image into the heart of a nation Sunday. He sent a low shot through Team USA goalie Ryan Miller's legs from the lower part of the left circle 7:40 into overtime to lift Canada to a 3-2 win in the gold-medal game.
Crosby's goal sent a nation into hysterics about 25 or so minutes after it had a collective coronary when American forward Zach Parise tied the game with 24.4 seconds left in regulation.
"Yeah, I did dream about it -- probably a thousand times," Crosby was saying after the Canadians finished their impromptu celebration on the ice, passing around a Canadian flag as if it was the Stanley Cup. "You never know if it's going to come true. You never know if you're going to be in this position."
Crosby found himself in this position because Team Canada coach Mike Babcock kept going back to him and Jarome Iginla even though neither was having a great game. That chemistry they showed previously in the tournament looked zapped until overtime.
"I thought Iggy and Sid would have a chance and in the end, obviously, they made a good play," Babcock said. "He beat Miller to the deck with a quick release."
Crosby first beat Team USA defenseman Brian Rafalski to the puck near the left boards and poked it up to Iginla. Crosby then got an inside step on Rafalski and Iginla found him with a perfect pass for the winning shot that went through Miller's legs.
Miller said he saw Crosby with his head down, so he came out to play it aggressively, but just as he was hoping to force Crosby to make a decision on where to go with the puck, Crosby lifted his head and saw the small opening.
"I didn't see it go in," said Crosby, who jumped into the corner and threw off his gloves to start the celebration. "I just heard the screams."
It wasn't long before that he heard only silence.
In the dying seconds of regulation, Patrick Kane's shot from the right circle hit Jamie Langenbrunner's skate in the high slot. Parise, who was in his customary spot right in front of the net, had the puck come right to him and he wrapped it into the net, setting off a wild celebration by the Americans.
"We showed a lot of heart; scoring that goal with 20 seconds to go to force overtime," Team USA captain Jamie Langenbrunner told NHL.com. "We really believed this was going to happen for us, but great players do great things and that is what happened."
Canada had plenty of chances to put the Americans away before Parise tied the game, but couldn't make good on any of them, starting with Eric Staal's blown opportunity on a breakaway late in the second period.
The Canadians were inches away from scoring early in the third, but a pair of deflected shots rang off the post.
Crosby had perhaps Canada's best chance to take a commanding two-goal lead when he got loose on a breakaway with 3:15 left. But Kane backchecked incredibly hard and got there just in time to thwart Crosby's deke before he was going to shoot on Miller.
Crosby thought back to that missed opportunity after Parise tied the game.
"Anybody would have that going through their mind when they tie it up after you miss a breakaway," he said.
Team Canada defenseman Duncan Keith said the entire team was calm in the dressing room during the intermission before overtime. They took their cue from how they handled the entire tournament. The Canadians faced enormous pressure before the tournament began and it only grew after three games yielded only one regulation victory, which was an 8-0 shellacking of the overmatched Norwegians.
Canada hung on to beat Switzerland on Crosby's shootout winner and then lost to the Americans last Sunday. They faced elimination Tuesday against Germany, but won that going away before blowing out Russia and hanging on to beat Slovakia.
"We talked all tournament long about how there would be adversity throughout the tournament and everything wouldn't be smooth sailing," Keith said. "That's what we talked about (in the dressing room); this is just another bump in the road so let's stick with it and take it to them."
Roberto Luongo, who also stamped his legacy by finally winning the big one on the big stage with 34 saves, said he didn't do anything different during the intermission.
"It's a tough one with 24 seconds left, but we're in overtime and next goal wins so you have to refocus right away," Luongo told NHL.com. "Once we got into the locker room guys started thinking about overtime right away. This is just a game of hockey and obviously it was going into overtime, but you have to play the same way."
Canada came after the Americans in overtime, forcing Miller to make some big stops, including back-to-back saves on Iginla and Crosby about 4:20 into the session. Perhaps that was a harbinger of things to come.
"I thought we were good in overtime," Babcock said. "We had some heat on, lots of opportunities and Miller was good. We still got cautious. When you're ahead and you're trying to protect the lead instead of just going to get the next one, you get yourself in a little bit of trouble and that happened. We found a way to win. That's what it's all about."
Canada grabbed a 1-0 lead after the first period on a rebound goal by Jonathan Toews 12:50 into the game after Rafalski and Erik Johnson combined for a bad turnover near Miller.
The Canadians appeared to take control when Corey Perry scored 7:13 into the second to give the hosts a 2-0 lead. Ryan Getzlaf's pass went off Ryan Whitney's stick, but the puck settled perfectly for Perry in the high slot and he shot it high past Miller.
But a hard dash to the net by hometown boy Ryan Kesler, who plays for the Canucks, got the U.S. on the board with 7:16 left in the second. Kesler deflected Kane's shot through the small opening between Luongo's left arm and his side.
"That's a roller coaster ride to get scored on with 20 or so seconds left," Canada defenseman Dan Boyle told NHL.com. "Then to win it in overtime, and that's really what you dream of, to win it in overtime. We had the right guy scoring the goal."