It is an image -- Crosby steaming in from the right of goalie Ryan Miller, the puck on his blade, the tournament hanging in the balance -- that will haunt the thoughts of 23 men for a long time.
"It's tough," team 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 tonight. It was a great goal by (Crosby) and tough for us."
They will wake up more than once wishing they could change the outcome. Wishing Miller -- the man responsible for Team USA's place in the gold-medal game and the MVP of the tournament -- could close his legs a split-second faster.
Wishing that defenseman Ryan Suter could have gotten to forward Jarome Iginla a second before he made the pass to Crosby. Hoping against hope that defenseman Brian Rafalski could have closed quicker on Crosby. Perhaps, if the nightmare is vivid enough, they will even wish that referee Bill McCreary could have lifted his skates to let the puck continue along the half wall.
But, none of those hopes and wishes will change the reality of Canada's 3-2 victory, delivered by the flick of Crosby's wrists in the seventh minute of overtime Sunday.
Nothing will erase the image of Crosby tossing his stick and gloves in the air and one graceful moment before being mobbed by teammates as Canada Hockey Place -- and a nation -- erupted in rapture while Miller rested his head dejectedly on the ice he had so valiantly safeguarded for the first 336 minutes of this tournament.
On this day, the Americans were losers. A reality made all the harsher because of the gold-medal stakes.
"You lose the silver medal, you don't win it," defenseman Jack Johnson said. "You win the gold, you win a bronze, you lose a silver. That's just the way it is."
If only it didn't have to be that way. If only there was some magic elixir to ease the heartache the Americans felt as they stood -- stoic and spent -- to receive their silver medals.
Because this team deserves some relief from the ache they will carry back to their NHL teams -- and likely -- well into the summer, if not longer.
In the end, these Americans were more than worthy foils on Sunday, providing a scary adversary for a Canadian squad that finally, if fitfully, fulfilled its date with destiny.
The Americans weren't the cannon fodder many predicted when GM Brian Burke assembled this team on Jan. 1, ushering in a new generation of Team USA with a roster populated with youngsters and role players. All but three of America's 23 players made their Olympic debut here in Vancouver.
"If we knew two weeks ago we were going to play in the finals, we would have taken it," first-line center Paul Stastny said. "But, to be so close to winning it, that's the hardest thing right now."
The Americans came within one goal of winning the country's first gold since Lake Placid in 1980. They also delivered a brand of hockey that had casual American hockey fans jumping on the Team USA bandwagon.
Sunday, this Team USA conspired with the bigger, more experienced host team to provide an instant classic of a game.
"This game showed all the good there is in hockey," Langenbrunner said. "The heart and determination everybody plays with; the battle level, the character of the athletes. It's a pretty special sport. It was a fun game to be a part of. Wish I could be on the other end of it."
Team USA fell behind 2-0 Sunday, the first time the Americans have trailed in this two-week tournament. It was supposed to break the Americans' spirit. Instead, Ryan Kesler scored on a deflection to set the stage for a tying goal by Zach Parise -- a buzz-saw all night -- with just 24.4 seconds remaining.
"You have to love the character and grit we've shown this whole tournament. We battled hard all tournament. We showed a lot of heart; scoring that goal with 20 seconds to go to force overtime."
Unfortunately, Parise's goal just delayed the heartbreak that Crosby delivered in stunning fashion.
"You let the biggest award there is in all of sports slip through your fingers there at the end," Jack Johnson said
Someday, hopefully, these Team USA players will dig out their silver medals and look fondly upon the symbol of all that they accomplished during a magical two weeks here.
But, sadly, that day may never come for some of these players. And, as unjust as that might be, it is the essence of competition, part of the contract these players accept to play on the biggest of stages.
"I'll probably never really appreciate it, coming out on this end of it," Langenbrunner said. "You remember the games you win. You try to forget the ones you lose."
If there is any justice for these Americans, they will be able to close their eyes and not call up the image of Crosby administering the dagger to their dreams. Instead, perhaps, they will remember all that they accomplished here during a magical two-week run to silver.
"Like I said, we're a group of young guys who were written off," Jack Johnson said. "We proved we were one shot shy of winning the whole thing. We're all very proud of each other. I wish I could be with this group of guys the whole year-round. It's the most fun I've ever had playing hockey."
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor