Game 7, Sept. 26, 1972
Befitting a series that could have gone either way, Game 7 is the most closely contested of the series. In a game that saw seven goals scored, no team had more than a one-goal lead.
The series bubbled over in Game 7. In the first period, Phil Esposito was sent to the penalty box for slashing. While in the box, the camera caught Esposito gesturing to a Soviet player. He started with the slash across the throat motion, then pantomimed fighting. He did this for a good thirty seconds, while Foster Hewitt droned on about anything but Esposito’s gestures. Today, of course, Esposito would be expelled from the game, chastised in the press, and probably suspended. But in 1972, in this series, it didn’t even get a mention.
In the first period, after Esposito scored from his customary spot in front of the net, Alexander Yakushev scored on a slapshot that should never have gotten past Tony Esposito. On a power play, Petrov scored a beauty, drawing Esposito out of position to take their only lead of the game. Before the period was over, the Soviets fell victim to a famous ‘Savardian spinarama’, as Danny Gallivan used to put it — Serge Savard faked a shot, befuddling a Russian player, then passed it to Esposito who fired home his second goal. According to the book Hockey Night in Moscow, which I’ve had for 40 years, Esposito spent five straight minutes on the ice during that sequence.
In a scoreless second period, the 3,000 Canadians and about 12,000 Russians engaged in a running cheering battle. When Canadians would launch the “Go Canada Go” chant, the Russians would whistle in an attempt to drown them out, or chant “shaibu”, which, I believe means “All hail the glorious collective hockey squadron.” But the Russians had no answer for the Canadian fan’s most creative moment, the “da, da, Ca-na-da, nyet, nyet, Soviet” chant. I can never figure out how a crowd collectively comes up with a chant.
In the third, after Rod Gilbert scored, the Soviets tied it on a powerplay, with Yakushev scoring a tip in from the side of the net. It was hard to tell the ghoulish Yakushev had scored; there was no celebration from him at all. As the period wore on, the officiating tipped towards the Soviets, with any number of Soviet offences missed. The closest the game, and the series, came to a full-scale brawl was with 3:34 to play, when the teams met for an extended debating session, to the shrill whistling of the Soviet fans. Gary Bergman was in the middle of it, incensed because he has been kicked — kicked! — by Boris Mikailov. A pair of offsetting five-minute majors were handed out, which seemed like an easy out of the outmatched officials.
As the game appeared to be headed for deadlock, Paul Henderson scored a goal that was, based on sheer skill, greater than his much-more famous goal two nights later. At 17:54, Henderson took the puck at the Canadian blue line, skated unmolested over the Russian blue line, put the puck between the legs of two Soviet defenders, shook off a hip check from a third, and slipped the puck past Tretiak. It’s a magnificent goal, probably the greatest of his life, and his second straight winner.
“Of all the goals I’ve ever scored,” Henderson said after the game, “this one gave me the most satisfaction.”
Just wait, Paul, just wait.
Prophetically, as Hewitt pointed out on the broadcast, the goal judge would be a little slow to light the lamp. He would be slow two days later as well, triggering one of the most famous incidents of the most famous series in history.
The Russians would press furiously after Henderson’s wonderful goal stood up. Now, just one more game, and the comeback would be complete. Surely, it couldn’t get any more exciting, could it?
Sure, why not?