VANCOUVER -- Roberto Luongo held up his gold medal proudly. He might as well have been holding up a sign that read, 'Now I have proof.'
"This is what matters to me right here," Luongo told NHL.com, grasping the medal in his hands minutes after Canada beat Team USA in overtime, 3-2, on Sidney Crosby's Olympic winner. "No matter what people say or do, at the end of the day I'm a gold medalist and nobody can ever take that away from me."
Until Sunday, Luongo had been chided for never winning the big one.
Yes, he backstopped Canada to back-to-back gold medals at the World Championships (2003 and 2004), but the pressure he faced in Helsinki and Prague was pedestrian compared to what he was up against in Vancouver these last two weeks.
He answered in a big way and from now on, no matter what he does in his NHL career, his legacy will forever be sealed in gold. That's pretty darn good.
"It's amazing, all players until you actually win, you're all questioned," Team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman said. "I went through it for a brief period, Wayne (Gretzky) went through it very briefly and Mario (Lemieux) went through it very briefly. All these guys, until you win you have to deal with that. Over time, you learn to. I think this will answer some of that question for him. He was in net for a gold-medal winning team and played admirably. I'm happy for him."
Luongo never had it easy in the Olympics. He started Canada's first game because coach Mike Babcock wanted to give him at least one game in his home building. Luongo pitched a shutout against Norway, but Babcock turned to the more accomplished Martin Brodeur against the tougher Swiss team.
Brodeur showed incredible poise in leading Canada to a 3-2 shootout victory. He stopped all four shooters he faced during the skills competition and was lauded by Babcock after it was over.
Babcock wasted no time naming Brodeur his starter for Canada's first meeting with Team USA last Sunday.
However, Brodeur was not as strong against the Americans as he was against Switzerland. He gave up four goals on 22 shots, and later that night Babcock told Luongo it was his net and his tournament to win.
Babcock told the media that he came into the tournament thinking they could make one goaltending change if they needed to, and that was it. He said if they wouldn't have to go back to Brodeur because if Luongo failed, Canada would probably be eliminated anyway.
Luongo made it look interesting at times, but he did not fail. He made 34 saves in the gold medal game.
"It's unreal," Luongo said. "I mean you work hard for something like this and it's nice to get rewarded. This medal is not only for myself, but for Canada and obviously the people of Vancouver that have supported me since I got out here."
Babcock was vindicated for going to Luongo late in Friday's semifinal-round game against Slovakia when the goalie made his biggest save of the tournament until that point. He got his catching glove up high enough to tip Pavol Demitra's shot from the right post that would have tied the game at 3-3 with 10 seconds left in regulation.
Luongo brought confidence from that save into the most pressure-packed and important game of his career on Sunday and was pretty good in stopping 34 shots.
He gave up the late goal to Zach Parise that sent the game into overtime, but came back strong in the extra session and made four saves to give Canada a chance.
"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 said. "Once we got into the locker room guys started thinking about overtime right away and then we got an enormous goal by (Crosby)."
The only other goal Luongo allowed Sunday was off a deflection by Vancouver teammate Ryan Kesler, who got his stick on Patrick Kane's shot. The puck slipped through a small opening between Luongo's arm and his side.
He might have wanted that one back, but it turns out he didn't need it.
"The whole time before today I was picturing in my head if we were to ever win the gold and stuff that I'd cry, but there was so much emotion that I didn't," Luongo said, still clutching at that gold. "No tears yet, but it's unbelievable."
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