Game 2: Toronto, Sept. 4, 1972
In the two days after the Mauling in Montreal, Canada was in a deep, dark, depressed funk. The loss to the Soviets was so surprising, so shocking, and so complete, that the entire country had a black cloud hovering over it from coast-to-coast. The same sportwriters who were gloating of an 8-0 series win for Canada were now heaping abuse upon the team. Legendary sportwriter Scott Young (Neil’s dad) wrote: “But when grown Canadians wearing their nations’s name on their backs get chippy, cheaply chippy, I feel badly for us.” Red Fisher called it “The Embarassment”. And that was some of the nicer stuff.
Everyone knew that if Canada didn’t win game 2, it was pretty much game over. Now we knew how good the Ruskies were, and there were now no excuses. It was win, or else, in Maple Leaf Gardens.
And Foster Hewitt still couldn’t pronounce Cournoyer.
After allowing seven goals, Ken Dryden was pulled in favor of Tony Esposito. Early in the game, there was a new wrinkle — endless line changes. The Russians would send out a line, Canada would send out a line, then the Russians would change their players, and we’d change ours. It seemed to take two or three minutes just to get the players on the ice, which did nothing for the pace of the game. But when they played, it was a terrific game, faster than Game 1 with a minimum of what the Russians used to call “hooligan” play. (Canada had some notorious hooligan players on the team, guys like Bobby Clarke and Wayne Cashman, while Canadians didn’t know who qualified as a hooligan on the Russian team. Russia’s dirty players, in the tradition of European hockey at the time, were subtle stick men, the type of guys who perfected the hard-to-detect spear.)
The first period ended scoreless, only because Tony Esposito made an out-of-this-world save to keep it at zero.
Things got heated in the second period. Nothing compared to the full boil fury of later games, but it was simmering. The Russians got a bench minor, apparently for arguing, at 4:13, leading to one of the game’s lengthy delays The first goal wasn’t scored until 7:14, when Phil Esposito scored a classic Espo goal. An immovable force in front of the net, Esposito simply stood his ground after getting the puck fed to him by Cashman, deked Tretiak and scored.
The goal gave Canada momentum, and Canada dominated for the rest of the period. But a one-goal lead, as welcome as it was, only brought back memories of our two-goal lead in game one. A critical moment came in the final minute, when Gnady Tsyganokov got a minor for slashing and a ten-minute misconduct, and Valerie Kharlamov also got 10 minutes for bumping a referee (unseen by the cameras). It would be the low point of the series for the Russians as far as officiating went.
Cournoyer (Cornoyier? Curnoyuer?) scored a beauty at 1:19, displaying the tremendous speed he was known for, beating Tretiak to the stick side. With Bobby Clarke in the box for a no-doubt richly deserved slash, Yakushev scored, and Canadian sphincters got tighter across the country.
With Canada down a man and wilting, Pete Mahovlich picked up the puck at centre, and went one-on-one against a Russian defenceman. He faked a shot, the defenceman bit, and Mahovlich — a rangy guy — went in alone on Tretiak. With a couple of moves, Big Pete (anyone over 6 ft. was automatically called Big in those days) turned Tretiak inside out and scored, finishing with Mahovlich towering triumphantly over the fallen Tretiak. Watching it again for the first time in 40 years, it still thrills.
With his brother Frank adding a goal at 8:59, the game was not in doubt, although I suspect nobody exhaled until the final buzzer sounded. Canada was, without doubt, the better team on this night. All wasn’t quite right in the world, but things were looking better.
Game note: The players of the game for Canada were Phil and Tony Esposito, because the “expert panel” that selected the stars couldn’t choose between the two. Phil described the game as “bigger than winning the Stanley Cup”. Coach Harry Sinden later said the Toronto game, and the first game in Moscow, were Canada’s two best games.