— The Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Canada’s game. Canada’s ice. Canada’s gold. Again.

Marie-Philip Poulin scored two goals, Shannon Szabados made 28 saves, and Canada rolled through its American rivals to win the gold medal in women’s hockey for the third straight Olympics, beating the U.S. 2-0 Thursday night in front of a raucous 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.

”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 outpassed, outshot and simply outworked the only team with a chance of standing up to them.

While some debate the viability of an Olympic sport with two such dominant powers, the Canadians celebrated — and several even went back on the ice an hour after their win, carrying champagne bottles and posing for pictures in the near-empty arena.

”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.”

Canada got two first-period goals from Poulin, the super-speedy 18-year-old forward from Quebec. Their smooth, graceful goalie did the rest, with Szabados capping her first Olympics with flawless netminding.

”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 previous four games went 0 for 6, and the Canadians consistently won most of the battles in a physical, grinding game.

When the puck went to center ice and time expired, 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 capes.

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 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.

”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 on home ice.