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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final

Canada tops U.S. 2-0 for third straight women's gold

Thursday, 02.25.2010 / 9:00 PM / All-Access Vancouver

NHL.com

VANCOUVER -- In the end, there actually was something that Shannon Szabados could not stop. A force so overwhelming that even her lightning glove hand and fast feet were powerless against it.

That would be the wave of Canadian women who stormed Szabados' crease as time expired and their golden dreams were fulfilled.

Szabados played the game of her life in the most important game of her life, making 28 mostly spectacular saves to repel one red, white and blue rush after another and backstop Canada to a 2-0 victory over the United States on Thursday in the 2010 Olympic women's hockey gold medal game.

Because she did -- and because an opportunistic, 18-year-old sniper named Marie-Philip Poulin scored two goals within 2:55 late in the first period -- Canada made it three straight Olympic gold medals following the Americans' victory in the inaugural women's tournament in 1998.

"This is it," Szabados said afterward, unable to stop patting the gold medal that hung around her neck. "It's what I've worked my whole life for. It's what we've worked this whole year for. It's unbelievable."

Even more so considering that Canadian coach Melody Davidson decided to turn this most pressurized of games over to the 23-year-old who has spent her whole life playing against boys and men rather than 31-year-old Kim St. Pierre, who backstopped Canada to the 2002 gold medal and also played on the 2006 gold-medal team.

"Shannon is a resilient goalie," Davidson said. "I remember the first time I met with her. She said, ‘There's only one thing I ask Mel: Can you give me one game vs. the U.S. this year?' That's all she asked."

Davidson gave her THE game. Szabados gave back everything her coach could have wanted.

"She was perfect," said Jayna Hefford, one of four Canadian women who have played in all four Olympic tournaments. "We had all the confidence in the world that she would play a game like this for us."

Coming out of its rout of Sweden in the semifinal – in which they exorcised the ghosts of the Swedes' epic upset of them in Torino – Team USA had all the confidence in the world that this was the day they evened the Olympic gold medal count at two each.

Team USA played at a break-neck pace from the drop of the puck. Canada played with unnerving poise.

The Americans threw everything they could at Szabados, hurtling into the Canadian zone with abandon. The Canadians relied on their superior positioning and precise passing to minimize the damage and counterattack beautifully.

In the end, though, it came down to Poulin's ability to appear, as if from out of thin air, twice and put pucks behind American goaltender Jessie Vetter -- and to Szabados' ability to get something, anything, on everything that Monique Lamoureux, Angela Ruggiero and Co. could throw at her.

"She obviously played an amazing game," Lamoureux said. "She stole the game from us."

The Americans' had two golden opportunities – lengthy 5-on-3 power plays midway through the first period and early in the second. They wear silver medals today largely because they couldn't cash in either time.

Team USA tried to set up defenseman Molly Engstrom for big shots from the right point on the first of those two-man advantages. But Szabados wasn't going to be beaten from that far out. On the second, they tried to work the puck down low, but when Canada's never-out-of-position defense wasn't blocking shots or breaking up passes, Szabados was flashing leather – including one twisting, over-the-head flail that was one part Dominik Hasek goaltending and one part Pete Townsend windmilling guitar work.

After surviving that first U.S. 5-on-3, the Canadians cashed in.

At one end, Szabados made a superb glove save to stop Caitlin Cahow, who had snuck in the backdoor from her right point position. When play went the other way, the American defense got caught puck-watching and Poulin slipped into a seam on the inner rim of the left circle, took a feed from Jennifer Botterill and one-timed a perfect shot over Vetter's catching glove at 13:55.

Off a faceoff to Vetter's left less than three minutes later, Meghan Agosta uncorked a quick shot that was blocked in front. Poulin, who had won the draw, pounced on the loose puck and squeezed it under Vetter's left arm at 16:50 for the 2-0 lead that Canada protected fiercely.

Team USA coach Mark Johnson might have been excused if he thought he had seen this movie before – the one about a scalding goaltender nullifying whatever the opponent could throw at him or her. But unlike 30 years ago, when he was scoring clutch goals and Jim Craig was playing the hero in goal, Johnson was on the losing side this time.

"She played well," Johnson said. "She controlled her rebounds and didn't give us a lot of second and third opportunities. And that's a credit to her, coming into a pressure-filled atmosphere with obviously the weight of her country on her. And I thought she responded very well. She never cracked."