|Sidney Crosby scores the overtime goal and breaks American hearts [GALLO/GETTY]
Canada beat the United States 3-2 to win the Olympic goal medal in their national sport of hockey, with Sidney Crosby scoring the winning goal 7:40 into overtime and setting off a celebration from coast to coast.
The perfect end to the Olympics for the host country, the gold medal was Canada's 14th, breaking the record for most won by a nation at a Winter Games.
The Soviet Union in 1976 and Norway in 2002 each won 13.
The entire hockey-crazed nation was stunned when Zack Parise scored to tie the game for the US with 24.4 seconds remaining in regulation.
But Crosby's shot from the lower part of the left circle eluded goalie Ryan Miller, and Vancouver's Canada Hockey Place erupted in deafening cheers.
Stuff of dreams
"It doesn't feel real. It feels like a dream. It just feels like dream,'' Crosby said.
"Our team worked so unbelievably hard. Today was really tough, especially when they got the goal late in regulation. But we came back and got it in overtime.''
In one of the greatest games in Olympic history, Canada's collection of all-stars held off a young US team that had upset the hosts 5-3 in round-robin play a week earlier. That loss forced the Canadians to play an extra game to reach the gold medal match.
Crosby had been scoreless the previous two games, but he had two post-regulation game-winners at these Olympics. He beat Switzerland with a shootout goal during the round robin.
It was close. It was nerve-racking. It was a game worthy of a gold-medal Olympic hockey final. And, for the disappointed Americans, it was a monumental let down in a tournament in which they were almost perfect.
Before the game, Crosby received a brief text message from Mario Lemieux, owner of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, that read: "Good luck.''
|The Canada and US teams fought it out on the ice until the very end [AFP]
Now, Crosby joins Lemieux - whose goal beat the Soviet Union in the 1987 World Cup - and Paul Henderson, who beat the Soviets with a goal in the 1972 Summit Series, among the instant stars of Canadian hockey.
At age 22, Crosby has won the NHL's Stanley Cup and the Olympics in less than a year's time.
To win, Canada withstood a remarkable and determined effort from a United States team that weren't supposed to medal in Vancouver, much less roll through the tournament unbeaten before losing in the first overtime gold medal game since NHL players began taking part in the Olympics in 1998.
Miller, the tournament MVP, was exceptional, and Parise scored a goal that - if the US had won - would rank among the storied moments in American Olympic history.
With less than a half minute remaining and Miller off the ice for an extra attacker, Patrick Kane took a shot from the high slot that deflected off Jamie Langenbrunner to Parise, who shot it off Roberto Luongo's blocker and into the net.
Parise is the son of JP Parise, who scored two goals for Canada in the Summit Series.
Canada goalie Roberto Luongo didn't outplay Miller, but still proved he is a big-game goalie - something he has never been previously - by making 34 saves in his own NHL arena. Luongo won all five games he played in the tournament, including all four after replacing Martin Brodeur following the loss to the US the previous Sunday.