The pitched battles that Canada and the U.S. wage in women's hockey had escalated to the point where there was nowhere else to go but a shootout for their game's biggest prize.
The U.S. returned to the top of the Olympic podium 20 years after they won gold in 1998 with a 3-2 shootout win over Canada on Thursday at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
"We knew it was going to be crazy," said U.S. forward Kendall Coyne. "It always is when we play them."
U.S. goalie Maddie Rooney stopped Meghan Agosta after Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored on Shannon Szabados in the sixth round to end the game, the first women's final that has ever gone to a shootout.
Canada's run of consecutive women's hockey gold ended at four.
The title wrested from them in a penalty-shot competition made silver feel sour. There wasn't a dry eye among the Canadian women as they stood in line waiting for their medals.
Canadian defender Jocelyne Larocque took hers off the moment it was hung around her neck.
"It's just hard," she said.
The result is likely to revive the outcry in Canada over why a shootout, and not another overtime period, should end such an important game.
"We wouldn't be saying that if we were the ones that won," Canadian forward Brianne Jenner rightly pointed out.
"We prepared a lot for the shootout. We felt confident going in. That's why you watch the Olympics for those exciting moments and unfortunately we were on the wrong end of it."
Canada rescued gold from the brink four years ago in Sochi, Russia, in an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Marie-Philip Poulin scored with 55 seconds left in regulation and again in overtime.
The U.S. came out on top Thursday in the constant tug-of-war between the two teams.
It's been going the Americans' way more lately. The U.S. has won seven of the last eight world championships, having beaten Canada in the final each time.
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"We know that it's never going to be an easy game against Canada, and to go to a shootout in the gold-medal game, that's what it's like between our two teams," U.S. defender Lee Stecklein said.
Marvin and Amanda Kessel also scored for the Americans in the shootout. Agosta and Melodie Daoust, who was named tournament's MVP, beat Rooney, but Agosta was stopped on her second attempt.
Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Lamoureux-Davidson's twin sister, and Hilary Knight scored in regulation. Poulin and Haley Irwin countered for Canada.
Daoust led Canada in scoring in the tournament with three goals and four assists in five games.
Rooney, a 20-year-old making her Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, turned away 29 of 31 shots in regulation and overtime for the win.
Szabados was a workhorse, stopping 39 of 41 shots before the shootout in her third straight start for Canada in an Olympic final.
She was limited to a handful of games in the months before the Olympics because of undisclosed injuries.
The 31-year-old from Edmonton does not love the shootout.
"It sucks," she said. "It becomes more individual and less of a team thing."
Nevertheless, the Canadian women had practised it this winter. Almost every one of the 26 games they played against men's midget triple-A teams in Alberta had a shootout contest after the buzzer.
And the Canadians led 2-1 with just under seven minutes to play when their bad line change gave Lamoureux-Morando an abundance of time to shoot on Szabados and even the score.
With Megan Keller serving an illegal hit penalty, Canada had a power play for the final 95 seconds of overtime and couldn't generate the winner.
The U.S. power play went 1-for-5, while Canada's was 0-for-3.
Canadian head coach Laura Schuler again felt the sting of losing an Olympic final to the U.S. She experienced it as a player for Canada when women's hockey made its Olympic debut in 1998.
"I don't think it ever goes away," Schuler said.
"There's always a part of you inside that it's hard, because you feel you let your country down, but at the same time when you look at it from a bigger picture, a global picture, there's positive in it.
"I know that there's a lot of people watching the game today and hopefully women's hockey continues to grow from it and I think that's what you look forward to."
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