On NBC, the United States-Canada game drew an average of 27.6 million viewers and 15.2 per cent of homes, the best such figures for hockey since Feb. 24, 1980, when Team USA beat Finland in Lake Placid for its last hockey gold medal.
It was the third-biggest U.S. hockey audience, trailing only that Finland game (32.8 million viewers) and the "Miracle on Ice" two days earlier against the Soviets, which attracted 34.2 million, even on tape delay.
Sunday's viewership peaked at 34.8 million from 5:30 to 6 p.m. ET, an audience size only football usually can attract among American sports.
The average viewership surpassed those for any day of the most recent World Series, NBA Finals or NCAA Final Four, as well as the Masters and the Daytona 500.
In Canada, an average of 16.6 million people watched on nine channels in eight languages, forming the largest TV audience ever in that nation. About 80 per cent of Canadians (26.5 million) watched at least some part of the game.
CTV play-by-play man Chris Cuthbert announced Sidney Crosby's game-winner this way:
"Crosby scores! Sidney Crosby! The golden goal! And Canada has once-in-a-lifetime Olympic gold!... These Golden Games have their crowning moment."
Later, 14.3 million Canadians watched the closing ceremony, making it the nation's second most-watched show ever.
The U.S. markets with the best ratings were Buffalo (32.6 per cent of homes) and Pittsburgh (31.9), the NHL homes, respectively, of U.S. goalie Ryan Miller and Crosby.
The game easily surpassed the audience for the 2002 final in Salt Lake City, which featured the same teams. That game averaged 17.1 million viewers and a 10.7 rating.
For the 17 nights of the Games, NBC averaged 24.4 million viewers and 13.8 per cent of homes in prime time, roughly in line with what it told advertisers to expect.
In Turin four years ago, NBC averaged 20.2 million viewers and a 12.2 rating. The best local rating among 56 major markets for the 2010 Olympics was 21.9 in Salt Lake City. (Miami was last.) NBC said 190 million people watched at least six minutes of the Olympics.
-- McClatchy Newspapers