But even before the game, they had to cope with apparent dissention within the ranks. Three players – Vic Hadfield, Rick Martin, and Jocelyn Guevrement – flew home rather than stayed with the team. Their rationale was that they were not likely to play, and they wanted to get ready for their NHL training camp. But it was not a good look, as it seemed to indicate the players were leaving the team at a time when all support and encouragement were needed.
Nevertheless, Canada roared out to a tremendous start in Game Five, building an impressive 4-1 lead through two periods. And then, just like that, they collapsed. The Soviets scored goals eight seconds apart to key the third-period comeback in a 5-4 win, giving them a 3-1-1 lead in the series.
The difference between Canada’s arenas and Luzhniki were immediately evident. The Plexiglas was replaced by wire fencing reminiscent of Original Six wire in the NHL; centre ice consisted only of a simple circle; and, there was only one tier of seating in the arena. The rink was much wider, and the goal creases semi-circular, not rectangular. Of course, Canada’s red sweaters were white and the Soviets’ white sweaters were now red. Rinkboard ads were all in English – Gillette, Catelli, Hitachi TV, CCM Sports, Jockey, Turtle Wax.
Over and above the blown lead, Canada got a scare late in the second period when Paul Henderson suffered a head injury. On a partial breakaway, he was stopped by Tretiak, but Henderson fell awkwardly on the follow through, tumbled into the boards, and lost consciousness. Today, he would almost certainly never have been cleared to play for several days, but in 1972 he missed only a few minutes of the game. Still, with the loss, there was now no margin for error for Canada. Win the next three games, or go down in history as having been humiliated by an opponent everyone had expected them to humble.
Despite the loss, though, Bobby Clarke later said the team came off the ice and knew it wasn’t going to lose another game. Perhaps it was easier to say that after the fact, or perhaps the team had developed chemistry and confidence that belied blowing a 4-1 lead.
Indeed, Canada did in Game Six what it failed to do two days earlier, though only by the skin of its collective teeth. The team gained the lead and held on for the win, scoring three times in 83 seconds in the second period and then checking the Soviets into the ice in the final, scoreless period for a 3-2 win.
But while the team’s performance was overall the most complete and impressive, a new enemy emerged – penalty calls. Canada accrued 31 penalty minutes to just four for the Soviets. More significant, those numbers translated to 15:09 of power play time for the Soviets to only two minutes for Canada. And, included in that power-play time for the Soviets was a two-man advantage for the full two minutes.
It began when Gary Bergman and what he felt was an unwarranted tripping penalty halfway through the opening period. Then, moments after Bergman returned, Esposito earned a double minor deep in the Soviet end, and while he skated off he gave a throat-slashing gesture to Yuri Shatalov in frustration.
These were the only penalties of a physical and goalless first period. Although Canada was short-handed for six full minutes, it survived the test and developed a greater pack mentality against their opponents and officials both. The vocal 3,000 Canadian fans who had made the trek to Moscow, meanwhile, rallied around their heroes with shouts of, “Go, Canada, Go!” that easily drowned out local cheers for the Soviets.
The second period was a veritable array of event and drama. It began with an early goal by Yuri Lyapkin whose low point shot beat Ken Dryden cleanly. Dennis Hull tied the game soon after, though, lifting a rebound off a Rod Gilbert shot over the fallen Tretiak.
This was the first of three goals in just 83 seconds for the Canadians. The go-ahead goal was a succession of three rapid plays. Pat Stapleton took a shot that went just wide, but Red Berenson behind the net quickly passed out in front and Yvan Cournoyer wasted no time in making his quick shot count.
Just seconds later, Henderson skated over the blue line and took a quick slapshot that caught Tretiak off guard, giving Canada a 3-1 lead. Midway through the period, Bobby Clarke was given two minutes and a misconduct for a slash to the ankle of Valeri Kharmalov. The chop didn’t look like much – and the Soviet was back on the ice for the ensuing power play – but it kept Kharmalov out of Game Seven and rendered him ineffective in the grand finale.
Later in the period, assistant coach John Ferguson incurred a bench minor for vociferous complaining of the officiating, and at the same time Phil Esposito clipped Alexander Ragulin with a high stick that drew blood, resulting in a five-minute major. In all, Espo accounted for nine short-handed minutes on his own.
The Canadian penalty killing on the two-man disadvantage and combined major to Esposito was nothing short of sensational, and in the third period the Canadians were relentless. There was to be one final test, however, when Ron Ellis drew a late holding call. The penalty killers continued to be the star of the night, and Canada clawed its way back into the series with a tenacious victory.
Game Seven was another must-win game for Canada, and it ended in dramatic fashion as Henderson scored the go-ahead goal with just 2:06 left in the game on one of the greatest efforts in hockey history. It began with the ever-calm Serge Savard flipping the puck out to centre ice while teams were playing four-on-four.
Henderson collected the puck, and he was alone against two Soviet defencemen in front of him and two Soviet forwards backchecking to catch him. Henderson quickly flipped the puck between the defence tandem of Valeri Vasiliev and Gennadi Tsygankov, and then skated to the outside around Vasiliev. Henderson caught up with the puck, but he was falling as he let go a shot over the blocker of Tretiak that stunned the goalie and the entire Soviet team. Canada had now tied the series and made game eight the most anticipated hockey game in history.
“It was the greatest goal of my life,” Henderson said of his dramatic game winner. “I can remember thinking I’d have to get the puck upstairs – up high, you know – because the goalie was sliding out in a crouch.”
The series was now even at 3-1-3. One game to go. Everything, literally everything, on the line.