February 20, 2014 Updated: February 20, 2014 at 7:45 pm
SOCHI, Russia - The post.
It's all that stood in the way of a gold medal. America's Kelli Stack had swatted a shot toward Canada's open net. Less than 90 seconds remained in regulation, and for a tantalizing instant, before the United States lost 3-2 in overtime, it looked as if the Americans would rule women's hockey.
But Stack's shot hit the left post. Dead center. With the quietest of clangs.
Stack wasn't surprised.
"I thought it would hit the post," she said. She might have been the only person in the Ice Dome who had that thought.
Canada's Catherine Ward was surprised. Her heart jumped as the puck took its slow ice journey. She believed her team was doomed.
When the puck bounced off the post, Ward felt a surge of excitement. Her team had been given new life.
"I just told myself, 'It's meant to be. This is our chance. We're going to get it,'" Ward said.
Ward was right. As she spoke, she wore a gold medal around her neck. She kept glancing at the bright circle.
"It's heavy," she said with a laugh before offering several reporters the chance to hold the medal.
As Stack spoke, she wore a silver medal. She never looked at it, and you get the feeling she never will cherish it, either.
A few minutes after the game, I heard a Swiss journalist talking about his sorrow for the Americans.
"A Greek tragedy," the Swiss journalist said.
Hate to disagree, but I don't believe any Greek tragedy is quite as sad as the hockey story that unfolded late Thursday night.
With 11:50 left in overtime, Marie-Philip Poulin, rifled a shot past goalie Jessie Vetter. Canada had been a study left post away from defeat, but the women from The Great White North claimed their 20th straight Olympic win and their fourth straight gold.
While the Canadians hugged and shouted and hopped, the Americans were skating around stunned. They had come so achingly close to conquering the queens of world hockey.
With four minutes left, the Americans led 2-0, leaving a throng of Canadian fans silent. These fans gave their team a home-ice advantage thousands of miles from home.
But anyone who watched Canada's win over the United States in the preliminary round knew the Americans remained in peril. Canada dominated the third period in that earlier victory, and they were preparing to dominate again.
With 3:26 left, Canada's Brianne Jenner slithered through America's defense and beat goalie Vetter with a shot that bounced off defenseman Kacey Bellamy. The Canadians had seized momentum.
The U.S. was just under a minute from victory when the puck bounced off Vetter and Philip-Poulin ripped the rebound into the net. It was 2-2.
But the instant that will linger in everyone's mind had come a few seconds earlier. With 1:35 left in regulation. Canada pulled its goaltender, and a few seconds later Stack launched her long shot. You know, the one that hit the post.
"I had no doubt we were going to win," Stack said. "We were up by two goals. It's heartbreaking. It's shocking that we didn't win the game. It's like a dream, you know."
It was a strange moment. Stack remained a few steps from the American locker room and her teammates, but she wanted to stay outside and talk about the worst night of her hockey life.
"The hardest part is going to be to go into that locker room," she said. "Everyone is going to be so sad."
All because of that left post.