No one could have written a more compelling script for a North American showdown between Canada and the US.
Canada entered the Games as co-favourite with Russia while the young American team was ranked sixth by the International Ice Hockey Federation. But the US squad's speed, tenacity and unrivalled goaltending landed them the top rank after the preliminary round. Led by netminder Ryan Miller and savvy veteran rearguard Brian Rafalski, the Americans never trailed in a game leading up to the gold-medal final. This included a shutout win over Switzerland in the quarterfinals and a six-goal, first-period domination over the Finnish team in the semis, resulting in a 6-1 victory.
Canada meanwhile struggled through the round robin requiring a shootout to defeat Switzerland and losing to the Americans 5-3. Following that defeat, Canada decided to replace legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur, who led them to gold in 2002, with local favourite Roberto Luongo in net. After a victory against Germany, Canada was matched in the quarterfinals against Russia, who boasted an incredible forward quartet of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. Unlike in 2006 when the Russians kept Canada off the score sheet and eliminated them in the quarterfinals, the Canadians exploded with four goals in the first period en route to a 7-3 final.
In their semifinal game, Canada faced an impressive Slovakian club that had earlier beaten the Russians and eliminated Sweden, the defending Olympic champions. Canada took a commanding 3-0 lead into the third period, but the Slovaks showed incredible resolve and scored twice in the third period and dominated the last minute, only to be robbed by an unbelievable glove hand stop by Luongo with seconds remaining.
The gold-medal final was a revisit to 2002. The Americans were looking to avenge their loss on home ice eight years earlier while Canada were thankful to get another shot at their rivals who had humbled them exactly a week earlier.
It was Canadian centre Jonathan Toews who opened the scoring halfway through the first period. Corey Perry extended Canada's lead to two in the second before US forward Ryan Kessler deflected a shot past Luongo to make it a one-goal game. With the goalie pulled for a sixth attacker late in the third period, the resilient Americans peppered the Canadian net with shots until Zach Parise slid home the tying goal with just 25 seconds remaining in regulation, forcing overtime.
Overtime would be 20 minutes of four-on-four hockey with a shootout to follow if needed. Rather than playing it safe after the emotional goal against, the Canadian coaching staff elected to press for the win. After continuous pressure on the Americans, it was superstar Sidney Crosby that scored the gold-winning goal at the 7:40 mark of overtime.
After the game, Miller was named the tournament's top player. The all-star team consisted of Miller in net, Rafalski and Canada's Shea Weber on defense, and forwards Toews, Parise and Slovak Pavol Demitra who led all scorers with 10 points.
The biggest surprise on Canada was the play of their two youngest players, 21 year-old Jonathan Toews and defenseman Drew Doughty who turned 20 just two months prior to the Games. Toews led Canada in nearly every category including assists (7), points (8), plus/minus (+9) and faceoff percentage (64.76). Doughty meanwhile started the tournament as the team's seventh defenseman but soon worked his way into regular rotation and was on the ice for the gold-medal goal.