VANCOUVER - The red sea didn't part yesterday afternoon. It rose in a great wave of national elation.
The instant Sidney Crosby's overtime shot slipped between Ryan Miller's magic pads and into Canadian hockey lore, an arena - and, beyond it, a hockey-crazed city and nation - erupted in ruby-tinged joy.
One of the signs that swayed in the raucous Canada Hockey Center stands after the host nation's stirring 3-2 victory over the United States concluded the 2010 Winter Olympics' competition and gave the Canadians a record 14th gold medal read: "Hockey is Our Game".
And just in case there were any doubts, just in case anyone thought the United States was about to borrow or steal it, Crosby's goal, off a lightning pass from Jarome Iginla, emphatically confirmed that article of faith.
Long after Canadian players had gold medals draped around their perspiring necks, the streets of Vancouver shook with excitement. Flags, voices, and spirits were raised in a riotous celebration that extended deep into the night.
The noise inside the building, and the festivities outside, likely were intensified by the game's drama and by the frightening fact that the rapidly improving Americans very nearly beat the Canadians at their own game on their home soil.
Playing cautiously with the one-goal lead it had held for nearly 35 minutes, Canada surrendered the tying goal with just 24.4 seconds left in regulation.
Zach Parise took a puck that had bounded off captain Jamie Langenbrunner's skate and pushed it past Roberto Luongo, the hometown hero whose every save triggered lusty cries of "LUUUUUU!"
Then, nearly eight minutes into overtime, with Miller, who would be named the tournament's MVP, standing on his head against relentless Canadian pressure, Iginla got the puck in the corner to the hot goalie's right.
With defensemen bearing down, the Calgary Flames gunner flashed a pass to Crosby, the successor to Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky, both of whom were in attendance, as Canadian hockey's greatest active hero.
The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar unleashed a bullet that found the U.S. goalie's five-hole.
"I get to see him do that in games and practice all the time," said U.S. defenseman Brooks Orpik, Crosby's Penguins teammate. "I'm lucky enough to be on the good end of it most of the time."
With 18,000-plus fans screaming, with flashbulbs popping, a horn bellowing, the P.A. system blaring a Journey tune, and his teammates racing to join him, Crosby flung away his gloves, tossed his mouthpiece, raised his arms, and began a series of joyous bear hugs that went on for more than five minutes.
"I remember calling for the puck from Iggy," the 22-year-old Crosby said, "and he kind of poked it to me. I just shot it. I didn't really even look. I just kind of threw it on the net."
Meanwhile, suddenly silver medalists, the Americans dropped dejectedly to their knees or leaned against their sticks as, after their first defeat in six Olympic matches, they watched a team they had defeated a week earlier celebrate.
"We beat them the first time we faced them and we took them to overtime today," said Parise. "This is going to sting for a couple of weeks. But we'll get over it and realize that we have a lot to be proud of. Nobody gave us a chance coming in. And we were a blink away from the gold medal."
That gold medal gave Canada 14 of them in these Games, while the silver medal raised the United States' final overall count to 37, both Winter Olympics records. It was the winners' eighth Olympic gold medal in the sport they invented, but just their second since 1952.
These Olympics, but maybe especially yesterday's riveting victory, had to erase some of Canada's inferiority complex about the United States. Now this hockey-mad nation has another memory to add to the 1972 win over the Soviets and the 2002 gold medal at Salt Lake City.
"I remember the way [the post-Olympic celebration] was in '02," Crosby said. "I'm sure it's pretty amazing out there right now."
He was right. But Canada could just as easily have been in a national funk today.
Because the United States had beaten them, 5-3, in the qualifying round, the Canadians had been forced to play an extra game. This was the team's third game in five days, and in the dramatic second half of this one, the younger, swifter Americans looked exactly that.
"We knew they had to play that extra game and were probably a little tired," Orpik said. "That was part of the game plan: just be patient and keep wearing them down."
Buoyed by the emotional crowd, the Canadians led by 1-0 thanks to a first-period goal by Jonathan Toews, on an assist from the Flyers' Mike Richards.
It was the first goal Miller had allowed in the Olympics in 124 minutes and 38 seconds.
Instead of the wide-open international style that had been so evident here, this game resembled an NHL contest, with big hits, lots of dump-and-chase and few good scoring chances.
At one point early, Richards drilled Orpik into the boards. A short while later, Orpik responded by driving Dany Heatley into the American bench.
Canada made it 2-0 when Corey Perry pumped in a rebound 7:13 into the second period. But Ryan Kesler's tip-in 51/2 minutes later - which precipitated an NBA-like leap by the goal-scorer - got the Americans to within 2-1.
That's where it stayed until Parise's late score forced overtime.
"The thing about overtime is that anything can happen," said Canada's Toews. "One bad bounce and we could be on the other end of this thing. Those were two teams giving it everything they had out there, both of them trying to get the gold medal they came here for."
Crosby's goal overshadowed a superb game by American Patrick Kane, just as Canada's win overshadowed America's rising hockey fortunes.
At one end, Kane assisted on both goals and was a dervish the Canadians couldn't seem to get a body on.
Defensively, he came away with several steals and, on one Canadian breakaway that would have made it 3-1, caught Crosby from behind just as the superstar was set to fire on Miller.
The Canadians regained their legs in overtime and Miller was forced to make several heroic saves.
But then Crosby came in alone, American hope died, and Canada was on the road to the podium.
"Only 22 guys are going be happy after a game like that," Orpik said. "Unfortunately, we were on the losing end this time. But you'll see the U.S. here again."