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Sunday, February 28, 2010
Goalies make their marks at Games

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The moment was perhaps lost in the delirious celebrations at Canada Hockey Place, but it was possibly the most touching.

At center ice for the postgame hand shakes, Ryan Miller and Lindy Ruff embraced. Only on this day, the Buffalo Sabres franchise goalie and his NHL coach were rivals. Ruff, an assistant coach with Team Canada, went home with gold, while Miller, in net for the Americans, took silver.

Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller was named Olympic tournament MVP despite losing in Sunday's gold-medal game.

"I just told him I was proud of the way he played," said Ruff. "I said, 'You had a hell of a tournament. You did a great job.' He was rock solid all tournament long. In a one-game showdown, you can get beat by the goaltender, and he almost did [it to us]. He really made a big statement for himself and represented our [NHL] club so well. He came here and he created a lot of hope for the U.S. team."

Miller was sensational again in Sunday's gold-medal game, stopping 36 of 39 shots. He was oh-so-close to handing his country a win no one expected, but Canada won 3-2 in overtime.

"I'm just very frustrated," said Miller, who was named MVP of the tournament. "We got ourselves in a position to win from two goals down and sudden death kind of stings, especially in this situation."

Miller was proud of his team.

"I thought we provided a consistent brand of hockey that got us here and we were good on defense, we were good pushing up the ice," he said. "We had every component to win. It just came down to OT."

At the other end of the ice, Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks quieted his critics. No one will pretend he was dynamite since taking over for Martin Brodeur four games ago, but he went 5-0 in this tournament and delivered a solid performance in the biggest game of his career.

"It's unreal," said Luongo. "I worked hard my whole life for something like this and it's nice to get rewarded. This medal is not only for myself, but it's for Canada and the people of Vancouver and the fans who have supported me since the first day I got here."

An emotional Luongo skated to center ice after the game and gave the Vancouver crowd a fist pump. For years now, the knock on the big netminder was he hadn't won the big game. This gold medal should end that conversation.

"I'll leave it up to you guys, you guys can be the judge of that," said Luongo, who stopped 34 shots Sunday. "But I got a gold medal around my neck and nobody can take that away from me."

Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman remembers a conversation he had in August at Canada's orientation camp about Luongo's lack of winning and didn't agree with that assessment.

"After that conversation, I went and looked at his career record, and he's had good success internationally," said Yzerman. "He won a gold medal for Canada at the World Championships, and I know World Championships aren't Olympics and don't get much attention, but winning is winning. And he's a great goaltender.

"I think last game he had to make a critical save against the Slovaks in the last seconds to win. And to come out and play in a pressure-packed situation and play very, very well, I think it just elevates his confidence even more. He came in, in a tough spot, and was asked to relieve Marty Brodeur and he performed admirably. ...

"He was in net for a gold medal-winning team and played admirably," added Yzerman. "I'm happy for him. He's really a solid person and a caring guy."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.