Lindy Ruff shook his hand last after it was all over Sunday and the two teams began going their separate ways. He met Ryan Miller near center ice, put his left arm around his shoulder, patted him on the back and whispered in his ear, the Sabres coach and his goaltender reunited again.
"You had a hell of a tournament," Ruff told Miller. "You did a great job."
Miller nodded and thanked Ruff. The compliment sounded hollow under the circumstances, but Miller will be fine over time. He introduced himself to the rest of the world in the 2010 Winter Olympics and took his place among the best goalies on the planet. One shot from Sidney Crosby for the gold medal in overtime changes nothing.
But he wasn't thinking about how well he played to get the Americans into the medal round, into the gold medal game, into overtime or Ruff's consoling tone. The time for that will eventually come. At that moment, Canada's 3-2 victory was still too raw to feel anything but complete and utter frustration.
"[Ruff] was happy and proud of how I handled myself in the two weeks," Miller said. "It was nice that he said that, but it didn't help at the moment."
Crosby won the gold medal for Canada and added to his legend when he took a pass from Jarome Iginla near the bottom of the left circle, quickly and precisely sending a shot along the ice and between Miller's legs 7 minutes, 40 seconds into overtime. Miller dropped to his knees and buried his head in his hands just outside the crease.
"I knew we lost," Miller said, "and you just feel [miserable]."
Bad goal? It seems less so when you consider the source. Crosby is the face of North American hockey, the next Gretzky, the most popular figure in the sport. Maybe it was fitting that he wound up scoring the winner on Canadian soil and giving his desperate nation its second gold in hockey in three Olympics.
Leaf Nation is celebrating today, and it should.
Canada was under immense pressure. In case no Canadians have personally reminded you, hockey is their game. They could have failed in every other event in Vancouver, so long as they won men's hockey. Having already boldly blown the podium in terms of medals, they added their Olympic-high 14th gold in the sport that mattered most.
They know the game, which was why the euphoric crowd made a point to give Miller the loudest ovation among American players during the medals ceremony. Miller was the best player in the tournament, no questions asked. They knew he darned near stole gold for the Yanks.
"He really made a big statement for himself, and he represented our club so well," Ruff said. "He came here and created a lot of hope for the U.S. team."
Certainly, Miller will be greeted with more enthusiasm when he shows up Wednesday night in Buffalo and gets back to work against the Washington Capitals. He needs a break after playing all six games for the Americans. Ruff isn't likely to play him Tuesday night, not against Sid the Kid and the Penguins.
It's time to take a step back.
Has your heart stopped pounding?
The hockey gods were kind enough to bless the gold medal game with overtime, bonus action in a classic matchup between the two superpowers. It merely added more drama, more intensity and more passion to what could go into the books as the most entertaining game in Olympic history. Or hockey history.
Where does this one rank? Up there.
Way up there.
"Being at home, gold medal game, overtime," Canada defenseman Chris Pronger said. "You're going to have a lot of kids growing up, wishing they were Crosby scoring in overtime and winning the gold medal. That's pretty special."
Zach Parise helped make it possible when he tied the game with 24.4 seconds separating Canada from winning in regulation, with Miller parked on the bench for the extra attacker. And there was South Buffalo native Patrick Kane, who took a spinning, desperation wrist shot that bounced off Jamie Langenbrunner's skate and landed on Parise's stick.
Kane was terrific on both ends of the rink Sunday. He was summoned for Team USA for his offensive talent and ability on the power play. But he made one of the best defensive plays in the tournament when he took off as if fired from a slingshot, head down, full speed ahead, and chased down Crosby on a breakaway in the third period.
If Sid the Kid scores there, well, it's over.
"It's probably the fastest I've ever backchecked in my life," Kane said. "There's a good reason for it in a game of this magnitude."
Kane assisted on both goals for Team USA, setting up Ryan Kesler for a deflection in the first period after Jonathan Toews and Corey Perry gave them a 2-0 lead. For all that has been said about Canada's offensive firepower, they were in control largely because they played such sound defense in front of Roberto Luongo.
The longer the game zipped along, you couldn't help but think the advantage leaned toward the young, fast legs with more ice available with four-on-four in overtime. Now you know why General Manager Brian Burke wasn't worried about lacking size and experience when putting the U.S. team together.
"Our whole goal was to win the gold," Kane said. "We fell a little short. It's tough to take right now. It's tough. You think of the feeling that it's going to be winning gold. Now you have to wait another four years to even have a chance at it. It stings a little bit."
It will hurt for a while, but the boys of Buffalo should be proud. Miller and Kane were terrific and confirmed they can play in pressure situations. East Amherst-raised defenseman Brooks Orpik was solid throughout and darned near planted Dany Heatley in the U.S. dressing room with a big hit in the first period Sunday.
And then there's Ruff, the former Sabres captain and current coach. He came from tiny Warburg, Alberta, and likes to tell people the town sign says "Welcome to Warburg" on both sides. He never had a chance to play in the Olympics, never won a Stanley Cup as a player or, if you need a reminder, as a coach.
"I'm proud," Ruff said. "I had a lot of fond memories growing up and playing hockey against towns that were 1,000 people or less. It will take a little while to sink in. It seems a little surreal. It doesn't seem like it really happened, but it did."