VANCOUVER — The U.S. women’s hockey team was hoping the pressure of playing at home would weigh too heavily on its Canadian opponents in Thursday’s gold-medal game.

Instead, a capacity crowd at Canada Hockey Place that included Wayne Gretzky and actor Michael J. Fox, paired with a superhuman effort by Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados, lifted Team Canada to its third consecutive Olympic gold medal.

Canada’s 2-0 victory gave the hockey-crazed Olympic host country its most treasured medal to date in this Games.

“We know they’re cheering for us. Where’s the pressure in that?” Szabados said.

That precious gold came at the expense of a U.S. women’s team looking to reverse its Olympic fortunes.

Since winning gold at the 1998 Games, where women’s hockey made its Olympic debut, the USA has come up short of a repeat with two silvers (2002 and 2010) and a bronze (2006).

Four-time Olympian Angela Ruggiero, who put off pursuing a career to try for another gold at this Games, cried on the ice as Canada celebrated.

“You really give your life to it, make a lot of sacrifices,” she said later, “so you’re hoping to win that gold medal.”

Team Canada, which came back on the ice after fans left to celebrate with cigars and champagne, has ruled the Olympic landscape since losing to the USA in the 1998 title game. Szabados, a 23-year-old Olympic rookie, ensured Thursday that reign would continue, making 28 saves, many of them trigger-quick glove saves.

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L to R) Haley Irwin #21 and Meghan Agosta #2 of Canada lie on the ice and celebrate winning the gold medal with a beer and a cigar following their team's 2-0 victory during the ice hockey women's gold medal game between Canada and USA on day 14 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 25, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada. (Getty Images)

“At times we kept throwing the puck to her glove side,” said Ruggiero, who led Team USA with six shots on goal. “We should have thrown it low, then tried for rebounds.”

Canadian coach Melody Davidson did not reveal her goalie for the gold medal game until players took the ice.

Davidson recalled afterward that, in her first meeting with Szabados, the young goaltender asked if she could get in just one game against the USA. She played in more than that, and she played gloriously in the one that mattered most.

“Obviously, she had the weight of her country on her, and I thought she responded well for the entire game,” U.S. coach Mark Johnson said.

She was so impenetrable the Americans played more than two minutes in the first two periods with a five-on-three advantage but couldn’t score.

“She stole the game from us,” U.S. forward Monique Lamoureux said.

Another Olympic rookie, Marie-Philip Poulin, 18, gave the Canadians all the scoring they needed with two first-period goals. Those goals and Szabados’ saves became the convincing arguments that, after losing the last two world championships against the USA, Canada has turned the tide.

Just in time to deliver gold under pressure.

“I was standing on the blue line after the game, thinking, ‘Did I really just get a shutout?’?” Szabados said.