An inch from win, U.S. falls to Canada

By Rachel Blount / The (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune

SOCHI, Russia — The moment the puck came off her stick, Kelli Stack knew it was going to hit the goal post of Canada’s empty net. And at that point-with her U.S. team still clinging to a one-goal lead-she didn’t believe it would matter. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh, that would have been nice if that went in,” she said. “An inch to the right.”

As the puck nicked off the post, Canadian defenseman Catherine Ward thought something much different. That one inch would be wide enough for her team to charge through and rip the Olympic gold medal out of the Americans’ hands, leaving Canada the space to rally for a 3-2 overtime victory in another stirring, stunning battle royale between the two best women’s hockey teams in the world.

On their sport’s biggest stage, the two old rivals put on another epic show at Bolshoy Ice Dome. But the Americans were left again to weep the wrong kind of tears. Even Ward said she and her teammates felt a little sad for their longtime sparring partners, whose Olympic gold-medal drought will now stretch to two decades.

Canada won its fourth consecutive Winter Games gold by erasing a 2-0 U.S. lead in the final three minutes, 26 seconds. Marie-Philip Poulin stuck the shiv into the U.S. again, just as she had in the Canadians’ gold-medal triumph four years earlier. Her goal with 54.6 seconds remaining tied the game, and two American penalties in the overtime paved the way for her to score the winner on a 5-on-3 advantage.

The U.S. has not won a gold medal since 1998, the first year that women’s hockey was part of the Winter Games. Late penalties, some funky bounces, a couple of defensive lapses and that agonizing, slow-motion bounce off the post led to their third Olympic silver medal, allowing Canada to maintain an Olympic winning streak that now stretches over more than 16 years.

“I really just told myself, ‘This is meant to be,’” said Ward, whose team has won 20 games in a row at the Olympics. “This is our chance. We have to keep going. We’re going to get it.

“The momentum in a game can switch so fast. With our first goal, I think (the Americans) were on their heels. We just kept the pressure on, and we got that second goal, which was unbelievable. For sure, we feel for the U.S., but I didn’t want to lose. It was ours to win.”