EDMONTON — In a career of many memorable games in Canada's net, Shannon Szabados believes Sunday's 2-1 overtime win over the United States will end up ranking high on her list.
The 31-year-old made 34 saves in her hometown for the national women's hockey team. Jennifer Wakefield scored the winner with 27 seconds remaining in overtime.
Szabados was in Canada's net for Olympic gold-medal victories over the U.S. in both 2010 and 2014.
She held Canada in Sunday's contest when her team was outshot 25-10 over the second and third periods.
"This is probably for sure in my top five," Szabados said. "I feel like I've played in some pretty big games. This was pretty incredible.
"I think I had close to probably 300 people in the stands today, friends and family. Just being from Edmonton, born and raised, you couldn't ask for anything better than this."
Canada wrapped up their six-game exhibition series against the Americans with a 5-1 record. The archrivals won't meet again until their pool game Feb. 15 at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
But Canada opens defence of its gold Feb. 11 against Russia, who recently had six players banned by the International Olympic Committee for doping violations and had its sixth-place result in 2014 stripped.
Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que., scored a power-play goal in the first period Sunday.
Announced attendance at Rogers Place was just short of a sellout at 17,468 and also just short of the record for a women's hockey game, set in Ottawa at 18,023 in 2013.
Hilary Knight replied for the U.S., which has won four straight women's world championships. Maddie Rooney had 24 saves in the loss.
Szabados also backstopped Canada to a 2-1 overtime win against the Americans on Dec. 3 in St. Paul, Minn. She controlled rebounds Sunday and smothered pucks when her teammates needed a breather.
How much results in the pre-Olympic series will matter at the Winter Games is debatable.
Canada lost four in a row to the U.S. prior to arriving in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, but beat the Americans twice there en route to gold.
"These are great games for us to tune up against each other," U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. "Obviously it's the best competition playing against them, we feel.
"Can't live in the past, can't live in the future, so tonight we were worried about this game. We weren't looking ahead to February."
Wakefield shovelled the puck into the U.S. net on a Canadian rush in overtime. The goal was reviewed and allowed to stand.
The forward from Pickering, Ont., was coughing and feeling less than robust post-game. The Canadian women had beaten the U.S. 3-1 two nights earlier in San Jose, Calif.
"I thought we played an alright game," Wakefield said. "We have way more areas we need to improve on so it was nice to get the win even though we didn't necessarily play our best."
Knight scored late in the second for a 1-1 stalemate heading into the third. She beat Szabados glove side at 14:02 on a backhand feed from Kendall Coyne.
With Melodie Daoust providing traffic in front of Rooney, Poulin scored a power-play goal on a snap shot from the top of the face-off circle at 17:15 of the first period.
Including a pair of losses to the U.S. in November's Four Nations Cup in Florida, Canada was 1-3 versus the Americans in October and November before winning four straight in December.
"I'm really happy with our process and where we're at," Canadian head coach Laura Schuler said. "Our girls have been so open to little tweaks and changes in our game plan to help us continue to get better.
"That's been the difference in helping us be successful, but there's still more work to do for sure."
With 26 players still centralized in Calgary where the Canadian team is preparing for the Winter Games, three skaters still have to be released to get down to a roster of three goalies and 20 skaters.
Since women's hockey made its Olympic debut in 1998, Canada and the U.S. have met in the final four times (1998, 2002, 2010, 2014). Canada is 3-1 in those bouts and has won four gold in a row.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press