Sochi, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - Even with a two-goal lead heading into the closing minutes of regulation, the United States still couldn't find a way to beat Canada for Olympic gold.
Canada claimed its fourth straight gold medal in women's hockey, rallying for a thrilling 3-2 overtime win over the Americans in Thursday's classic battle at the Sochi Games.
Marie-Philip Poulin scored the two biggest goals of the tournament, notching the tying goal for the Canadians with 55 seconds left in regulation before winning it with a power-play marker from the left circle at 8:10 of OT.
Poulin helped deliver the 21st straight win for Canada at the Olympics. The Canadians haven't lost at the Winter Games since 1998, when the U.S. beat them in the gold-medal game at the inaugural women's Olympic tournament in Nagano.
Brianne Jenner scored the other goal for Team Canada, while Shannon Szabados turned aside 27-of-29 shots for the win.
"I'm just so proud of my team and the way we stuck together," Team Canada captain Hayley Wickenheiser said. "We found a way to stay composed and calm. No matter what the score was, we believed in ourselves the whole way through. There was never an ounce of panic, so that was good."
Wickenheiser, widely considered to be the greatest women's hockey player ever, won a fourth Olympic gold at her fifth Winter Games. This may have been the last run at the Winter Games for the 35-year- old, and it would be a fitting end to a stellar Olympic career, which also included an appearance for Canada's softball team at the 2000 Summer Games.
Canada's Jayna Hefford joined Wickenheiser as the only hockey players to have won four Olympic golds. Six men from the Soviet Union and two other Canadian women have won three.
Meghan Duggan and Alex Carpenter scored for the U.S., which settled for silver for the third time in the last four Winter Games. The Americans, who beat Canada to take four of the last five world championships, won bronze at the 2006 Olympics.
Jessie Vetter made 28 saves in a losing effort for the Americans. She was less than four minutes away from a shutout before Canada turned the tables on the U.S.
The Canadians went 2-0 against the Americans at the Sochi Games. They also posted a 3-2 regulation win in the preliminary round.
The overtime session was played with a 4-on-4 format that was scheduled to go 20 minutes before heading to a shootout, if necessary. Thanks to Poulin, the Canadians didn't let it get anywhere near the penalty shot stage.
Poulin's winner came with Canada working on a 4-on-3 advantage. The power play was awarded after Hilary Knight hauled down Wickenheiser, who was attempting to go in alone on a breakaway before Knight committed a cross-checking penalty.
Laura Fortino held the puck in the high slot on the ensuing power play and faked a slap shot before dishing to Poulin in the left circle. Poulin quickly wristed a shot on net to beat Vetter, sending the Canadians into celebration mode as the U.S. was left to wonder how it all went so wrong.
"I think that's the most heartfelt game we've ever played. We played for each other," said U.S. forward Lyndsey Fry. "It stinks, but we're incredibly proud of what we've accomplished."
The U.S. carried a 2-0 lead into the final four minutes of the third period, but couldn't seal the deal. Jenner tallied with 3:26 remaining in the third to cut it to one and Poulin delivered the equalizer with 55 seconds left.
Canada sliced the two-goal deficit in half when Jenner wristed a shot from the left circle. The puck deflected off the leg of U.S. defenseman Kacey Bellamy at the top of the crease before getting past Vetter.
The Americans nearly restored the two-goal lead to potentially wrap up the elusive gold medal when Canada pulled Szabados in favor of the extra attacker. U.S. forward Kelli Stack shot at the empty net from her own zone and the puck appeared to be headed for the back of the cage before hitting off the right post and staying out.
Poulin made the most of that fortuitous bounce, evening the score at 2-2 in the final minute of regulation. Rebecca Johnston backhanded a pass from the end boards and Vetter attempted to redirect the puck out of danger with her stick. Instead, the disc went right to Poulin in the low slot and she sent a wrist shot past Vetter.
The first period featured plenty of action up and down the ice, but no goals.
The U.S. had two power-play opportunities in the first half of the opening period, but couldn't convert. Szabados came up with a couple of big saves against American defenseman Anne Schleper on the first penalty kill of the game.
All told, there were five penalties called in the first 20 minutes with the Americans getting three power-play chances to Canada's two. Szabados stopped 11 shots during the physical first period and Vetter made nine saves.
Canada had the jump in the early part of the second period, but the U.S. weathered the storm before Duggan and the Americans took advantage of a turnover by Catherine Ward.
Ward sent the puck off the boards in the neutral zone and the disc went right to American forward Jocelyne Lamoureux, who charged down the left wing before dropping a pass back to Duggan in the left circle. Duggan calmly collected the puck and fired a beautiful wrist shot from the faceoff dot into the upper right corner of the net, beating a helpless Szabados over her glove hand to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead with 8:03 left in the second period.
The Canadians went on the power play shortly after the Americans opened the scoring and a even had a two-man advantage to work with late in the second period, but couldn't pull even with the U.S.
Carpenter handed the U.S. a two-goal cushion just over two minutes into the third period. Knight held the puck near the left boards and threaded a terrific pass to Carpenter, who was stationed at the right edge of the crease for a deflection goal at the 2:01 mark.
Earlier on Thursday, Switzerland rallied to beat Sweden 4-3 in the bronze medal game. It was the first Olympic medal for the Swiss in women's hockey.