VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- Life is sweet when there's a gold medal hanging from your neck in your home rink.
Marie-Philip Poulin scored two goals, Shannon Szabados made 28 saves, and Canada rolled through its American rivals, 2-0, to win the gold medal in women's hockey for the third straight Olympics Thursday night in front of a raucous Vancouver crowd ringing cowbells and frantically waving thousands of maple leaf flags.
After Poulin's two first-period scores, the Canadians dominated every aspect of the biggest game in this young sport, earning their 15th straight Olympic victory. When time expired and the Canadians skated into a massive pile-up near their goal, several cheering fans threw flags over the glass to the players, who wrapped them around their shoulders like superheroes' capes.
"I looked up in the stands and saw a sign that said, 'Proud to be Canadian,' and that's what I am today," Szabados said. "My teammates were unbelievable today. We played a great game, and this is an incredible moment."
Playing with a consistency and passion its men's team hopes to emulate this weekend, Canada remained unbeaten at the Olympics since 1998, when the Americans won the first women's gold.
The Canadians kept nearly the entire game in the Americans' end -- outpassing, outshooting and simply outworking the only team in women's hockey with a chance of standing up to them.
Let others debate the viability of an Olympic sport with two such dominant powers on top. For the Canadians, it was time to celebrate.
"We commit. We work hard," said Canadian captain Hayley Wickenheiser, a four-time Olympian with three gold medals. "It's up to the rest of the world to catch up. This is not as easy as it looks, trust me."
Earlier, Finland won the bronze medal, beating Sweden 3-2 in overtime.
Canada got two first-period goals from Poulin, the super-speedy 18-year-old forward from Quebec who claims she felt no Olympic pressure. Their smooth, graceful goalie did the rest, with Szabados capping her first Olympics with flawless netminding in a win that sometimes seemed just as one-sided as Canada's 18-0 victory over Slovakia to open the Olympics 12 days ago.
Much of the Canadian men's team, which faces Slovakia in the semifinals Friday, watched the game from press box seats above the ice, while Michael J. Fox, Wayne Gretzky and several Canadian gold medalists from other sports were in the stands. Several members of the American men's team were there, too.
"We kept turning to each other after the game and saying how much we love having the Olympics in Canada," four-time Olympian Jennifer Botterill said. "This country has supported us any time we've played, and today was an amazing example of that."
Jessie Vetter made 27 saves for the Americans, whose offense evaporated in front of Szabados and the Canadian defense. The potent power play that produced 13 goals in the last four games went 0-for-6, and the Canadians consistently won most of the battles in a physical, grinding game.
"It stings when expectations are high and you come up short," U.S. coach Mark Johnson said. "It hurts, but certainly I think we are better off than we were 3½ years ago. They are coming home with a silver medal. That's not a bad thing."
Meghan Agosta, voted the tournament MVP for her Olympic-record nine-goal performance, draped a flag over herself and Sarah Vaillancourt. Coach Melody Davidson congratulated her assistants and then shared a long hug with a team manager who lifted her off the ground, her heels in the air.
Several Americans were in tears, including four-time Olympians Angela Ruggiero and Jenny Potter, who had her two children on the ice with her for the medal presentation. The Canadian crowd raised a chant of "U-S-A!" while the players got their bouquets.
"When you give your whole life to something and you come up short, as a team, it's just awful," Ruggiero said, choking back tears. "It's a little different than playing on the men's side. You really give your life to it. You make lots of sacrifices to win the gold medal."
The only matchup that matters in women's hockey was set up in Monday's semifinals, when the Americans routed Sweden and Canada clobbered Finland to finish two dominant runs through the field. Canada outscored its opponents 46-2, while the Americans had a 40-2 advantage, with neither team winning by fewer than five goals.
"This rivalry will never end," Szabados said. "It will keep going and going."
Canada's Jayna Hefford predicted the gold-medal match would be the best game in women's hockey history, matching two nations with far larger talent pools and financial resources than the rest of the world combined.
It might have been the best game ever -- but only for the Canadians, who didn't waste their once-in-a-lifetime chance to win gold medals on home ice.
After losing the Canada Cup to the U.S. team on this same ice in September, Canada clearly built on the lessons of six straight exhibition victories over the Americans in the months leading up to the Olympics, showing quicker skating and smarter puck movement throughout.
The Canada Hockey Place crowd was hopping from 45 minutes before Potter and Wickenheiser took the opening faceoff, with competing chants of "Go Canada Go!" and "U-S-A!" reverberating through the rink.
Davidson waited until game time to reveal she had chosen the up-and-coming Szabados over Kim St. Pierre, who won the gold-medal game over the Americans in Salt Lake City in 2002. Szabados, who plays on a men's college team in Alberta, beat the Americans in the final of the Four Nations Cup last fall.
"I'll never forget meeting her for the first time," Davidson said. "She said, 'I have to ask you, Mel, can you give me one game against the U.S.?"'
Both teams took early penalties, and the Americans failed to score on a two-man advantage for 39 seconds. Moments later, Poulin flung a quick pass from Botterill through a corridor of four U.S. defenders for the teenager's fourth Olympic goal.
Poulin did it again 2:55 later during 4-on-4 play, collecting Agosta's faceoff win and ripping a shot that was simply too quick for Vetter to see. Poulin's face shield couldn't conceal her broad grin when she watched the replay on the overhead scoreboard.
"I can't believe that even happened," Poulin said. "I still can't believe I have that medal around my neck."
The Americans got nearly 100 seconds of 5-on-3 advantage early in the second, but couldn't connect. The drought extended into the third period, with the U.S. team putting far too many of its shots high, right where Szabados could see them.
"Szabados played out of her mind," U.S. forward Monique Lamoureux said. "It's never fun to lose, especially in a championship game."
Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.