* Canada beat U.S. in overtime to win ice hockey final
* Canada claim record 14th gold medal
* Northug wins cross country gold for Norway
By Julian Linden
VANCOUVER, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Canada beat the United States in an extraordinary men’s ice hockey final on Sunday to capture a record 14th gold medal and end the Vancouver Winter Olympics on top of the world.
Sidney Crosby scored in overtime as the Canadians avenged their loss to America in the preliminary rounds by winning the final 3-2, triggering wild celebrations across the country in the last event before the closing ceremony.
Canada were already assured of finishing top of the medal standings for the first time at either a Winter or Summer Olympics but beating the U.S. was the perfect ending for the hockey-crazy host nation.
The victory set a new record for golds won at a single Winter Games, surpassing the previous mark of 13 jointly held by the Soviet Union (Innsbruck, 1976) and Norway (Salt Lake City, 2002).
The U.S. also set a record for the most overall medals at a single Winter Olympics, finishing with 37, one more than Germany in 2002.
Norway’s Petter Northug earlier won the men’s 50km cross country ski race at Whistler after the closest ever finish to the lung-bursting event.
Northug sneaked past Germany’s Axel Teichmann right at the finish line to win the gold by just 0.3 seconds with Sweden’s Johan Olsson taking the bronze.
The drama of the final day provided an incredible lasting memory for a Games that began in tragic circumstances with the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.
“Vancouver had extraordinary embrace, something I have never seen on this scale again,” said the International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, who presented the medals to the Canadian and American hockey teams.
Canada looked to have the final under control when they opened up a 2-0 lead midway through the second period after goals from forwards Jonathan Toews and Corey Perry.
The U.S. pulled one back through Ryan Kesler in the second period and tied the scores when Zach Parise found the net 24 seconds from the end of regulation.
But with both teams launching waves of attacks in overtime, Crosby suddenly found himself in space and calmly slapped the puck past Ryan Miller to decide the gold medal.
“I felt like I was getting chances, Iggy (Jarome Iginla) was getting chances and eventually it was going to go in,” Crosby said in a televised interview.
“I waited to the last possible period so it was nice to see it go in.”
As the country erupted into celebration, Canada head coach Mike Babcock summed up the mood of the nation.
“To win it in overtime, to win it in Canada, (it is a) dream come true,” he said.
The match had captured the imagination of the whole of North America with U.S. President Barack Obama and Canada President Stephen Harper even betting a case of beer on the outcome.
Downtown Vancouver was transformed into a sea of red and white maple leafs as thousands of people flooded into the central business district in preparation for the most eagerly awaited match of the Games.
Every restaurant and bar was packed to overflowing after patrons queued for more than four hours to get the best seats while local television broadcast pictures of American and Canadian troops in Afghanistan watching the game.
“It’s our game, we invented it and we’re going to win the gold,” said Gordy Ford, a fan from Ontario.
Canada’s fairytale ending to the Games was in stark contrast to the dark mood of just a week ago when they were languishing on four gold medals and the public were demanding an investigation into their failure to win more.
But Canadians won 10 gold medals in the last seven days of competition to soar past their rivals and turn the Games into their own winter wonderland.
“Canadian athletes came to these games not with a swagger, but with a confidence that they could do what they were setting out to do,” said Michael Chambers, head of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
“I truly believe that what they have done over the course of these past two weeks have inspired an entire nation to believe in ourselves.”
Editing by Ed Osmond; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org