On Golden Ponds: Final Minutes An Eternity for Team USA

Three minutes and 26 seconds.

If you're listening to your favorite song, or microwaving a bag of popcorn, those minutes and seconds fly by.

But when that's all that stands between your team and a gold medal, time feels like it stands still. Painfully still.

The U.S. women's hockey team only had to survive those final few minutes and seconds against Team Canada Thursday and Olympic gold was theirs. They could see it, feel it, and heck, they could probably taste it, too.

But the seconds didn't tick off the clock fast enough, and before they knew it, their two-goal lead decreased to one. And with 54.6 seconds to go, it was completely gone.

"We had them at the end, up two goals and under five minutes to play," U.S. captain Meghan Duggan told NBC's Pierre McGuire after the game. "They just pressured us hard. Couple of bounces went their way and they tied it up."

All of that hard work that was put into the first 56 minutes and 34 seconds was for naught. All of the momentum Team USA build was gone. And just about eight minutes into overtime, their gold medal was gone, as well, when Marie-Philip Poulin fired a wrist shot past U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter for a 3-2 win.

Canada crafted the ultimate comeback to win its four Olympic gold medal in a row. And the United States, once again, was stuck with silver.

"It's heartbreaking, and you go four years, and you think you've got the game in the bag, and something happens," Team USA winger Hilary Knight told the Associated Press.

These teams could play 100 games in a row, and the final tally would be 50 wins for the U.S. and 50 wins for Canada. That's how close in talent and skill these teams are.

But this one was for the gold. And this one was an incredible U.S. collapse. That makes it sting so much more than any of the players could have imagined.

Team USA definitely had plenty of chances to win this game. Besides being up 2-0 late in the third period, they also had a Kelli Stack clearing attempt from her own blue line flutter toward Canada's empty net and doink off the left post. Had that gone in, the game would have been over.

And instead of being shell-shocked at the beginning of overtime, they actually came out flying and nearly scored three times in the first minute of the extra session.

But a little bit of luck and a lot of timely saves by Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados denied the U.S. an OT win. And an untimely penalty soon after led to the Canadians' power-play opportunity that sealed the Americans' fate.

"A couple more bounces go our way and things could be different," Duggan said just moments after reluctantly accepting her silver medal.

The medal ceremony was nearly as painful as the final minutes of the actual game. Team USA had to watch as the Canadians celebrated, and then accepted their gold medals, and then sang "Oh, Canada."

It wasn't the way the players thought the medal ceremony was going to go late in the third period.

It's going to take a while to get past it.

"At some point we'll be proud of these silver medals," Duggan said. "It hurts a little bit right now. You lose your last game and come up short."

Just three minutes and 26 seconds...

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