Forty years ago, the hockey world fundamentally was changed by the start of an eight-game series between national teams from Canada, loaded with NHL players in their prime, and the Soviet Union -- considered the two best hockey-playing nations in the world at the time -- that played out across the month of September. The series was a must-follow for hockey fans across the globe and after its dramatic conclusion --- a 4-3-1 series win for the Canadians -- there was no question that the NHL never would be the same again. This month, NHL.com looks at the historic Summit Series with a month-long collection of content.
Canada's win in Game 6 of the Summit Series cut the Soviet Union's lead to 3-2-1. But despite the fact that the last two games were to be played in Moscow, it also gave the Canadians confidence they would win Game 7 -- and Game 8.
"You're scared to death," Bob Clarke told NHL.com when asked about playing from behind in the series. "But you've also got the advantage of having nothing to lose -- you can just go for it, and that's exactly what our team did. Everybody on that team probably played the best games of their lives."
The Canadians' victory in Game 6 ratcheted up the pressure on both sides. So did the Cold War atmosphere -- the feeling that the series was a battle between competing philosophies of life as well as styles of hockey.
GAME 7: CANADA 4, SOVIET UNION 3
The Canadians received a late lift from Paul Henderson before surviving a desperate push by the Soviets in the final two minutes of Game 7. At the end of the day, Canada was back in business with a 4-3 victory that evened the 1972 Summit Series.
First Period: 1, Canada, P. Esposito 4 (Ellis, Park), 4:09. 2, USSR, Yakushev 4 (Shadrin, Liapkin), 10:17. 3, USSR, Petrov 3 (Vikulov, Tsygankov), 16:27 (pp). 4, Canada, P. Esposito 5 (Parise, Savard), 17:34.
Second Period: No scoring.
Third Period: 5, Canada, Gilbert 1 (Ratelle, Hull), 2:13. 6, USSR, Yakushev 5 (Maltsev, Lutchenko), 5:15 (pp). 7, Canada, Henderson 6 (Savard), 17:54.
Shots on Goal: Canada 9-7-9--25. Soviet Union 6-13-12--31
Goalies: Canada, T. Esposito 2-1-1 (31 shots on goal, 28 saves). Soviet Union, Tretiak (25-21)
"The pressure put on both teams to win was unbelievable," Ron Ellis said before this month's trip to Russia to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the series. "I found myself doing things that were uncharacteristic for me as well, and it was because of the emotion. We felt like we were representing our way of life."
The Soviets took the ice in Moscow on Sept. 26, 1972, without star forward Valeri Kharlamov, whose ankle was still hurting from a slash by Clarke in Game 6. But despite letting Game 6 slip away, the Soviets were confident they would win one of the two remaining games.
Phil Esposito, by now clearly the leader of Canada's team, opened the scoring at 4:09 of the first period, finishing off a centering pass by Ellis by firing a shot between the legs of goaltender Vladislav Tretiak. But a blast by Alexander Yakushev tied it at 10:17 and a power-play goal by Vladimir Petrov at 16:17 following a failed poke check by goaltender Tony Esposito put the Soviets ahead.
However, Phil Esposito scored off a deflection 67 seconds later to send the teams to the dressing room even at 2-2.
It stayed that way through the second period, mostly because of the heroics of Tony Esposito, who was flawless during a period in which the Soviets outshot Canada 13-7.
Rod Gilbert put Canada in front again at 2:13 of the third period when he stepped out from behind the net and stuffed a backhander behind Tretiak. But Yakushev scored his second goal of the game, and the Soviets' second power-play goal of the night, at 5:16 to make it 3-3.
Yakushev's goal triggered a surge by the Soviets, who sensed they had a chance to win the game and the series if they could get one more puck past "Tony O." They couldn't, and the teams began to play more conservatively as time began to wind down.
With 3:34 left, Soviet captain Boris Mikhailov and Canadian defenseman Gary Bergman were both sent off with major penalties -- Mikhailov kicked Bergman, who slammed the Soviet player's head into the chicken wire that was used in Luzhniki Ice Palace instead of Plexiglas. Both benches emptied, but order was restored without any further penalties.
The incident appeared to give Canada a shot of adrenaline. With less than three minutes remaining, Game 6 hero Paul Henderson took a pass from Serge Savard and came in 1-on-2 against the Soviet defense. Instead of trying to split the defense, the speedy forward slid the puck between the defenders and slipped around Evgeny Tsygankov before regaining the puck with no one between him and Tretiak. The other defender, Vladimir Vasiliev, tried to tackle Henderson, who floated a high shot as he felt himself going to the ice. The puck went between Tretiak's elbow and the crossbar at 17:54.
"My assets were my speed and my shot," Henderson told NHL.com. "With my speed, I could hurt them. You give me the puck and I can go. I scored a couple of breakaway goals -- I just beat the defenseman on the outside, and I was able to score."
The Canadians survived a desperate push by the Soviets in the final two minutes -- Tony Esposito made four saves in the final seconds -- and after the final horn went off, they and their fans celebrated a satisfying 4-3 victory that pulled Canada even in the series.
The Soviets, who felt they had the series all but won after their comeback victory in Game 5, were stunned.
"We knew that in Moscow, in our own rink, we could not lose," Tretiak said. "That was our fatal mistake."
Gilbert told NHL.com that the pressure had shifted to the Soviets, who had blown a 3-1-1 lead in the series.
"It was the most incredible pressure, in Russia," he said. "The Russians had to win at all costs. We had problems with the referees, we had problems with the hotels, we had problems with the practices. And there was real hostility. They didn't like us."