From the moment he pulled himself off Vladislav Tretiak, Peter Mahovlich knew he had scored a legendary goal. In the years that followed, he was reminded several times. This is bound to happen when you score one of the most exciting and timely shorthand goals in the history of the game.
But nearly five decades later, in conversation with Ken Dryden, Mahovlish was made aware of the sheer brilliance of the goal that took Canada 3-1 lead in Game 2 of the Summit Series, which was played 50 years ago on Sunday. Dryden wasn’t playing that night in Toronto and coach Harry Sinden decided that when neither Dryden nor Tony Esposito were playing it would be a healthy scratch, so Ed Johnston was the reserve goalkeeper in all eight games. So Dryden was in the stands when Mahvleich scored.
Kenny told me, ‘When I did that move and I scored that goal, I said, ‘Oh, ah, ah!’ Mahwflesh said. “Kenny Dryden, master of detailed words, that’s what he told me. He couldn’t find the words.”
It’s hard to find fault with that. The importance of this goal in the series cannot be overstated, although it is not on par with three-game winner Paul Henderson. After the greatest humiliation in Canadian hockey history just two days ago, Team Canada went into game two knowing full well that it wouldn’t be easy. Nine players who played in Game 1 of the series, a 7-3 loss to the Soviets, were not in Game 2’s lineup.
Having made a 2-0 lead early in the third half, Canada saw their lead to 2-1 when Alexander Yakushev scored a powerful goal with Bobby Clark to break. When Pat Stapleton was called to the pin less than a minute later, he sent Sinden Mahovlich and Phil Esposito to kill the penalty.
Phil came up to me on the bench and said, ‘We’re going out to kill this penalty, and instead of just throwing the discus in the ice, any time we get it we’ll grab it biting and try to keep as much as possible in the neutral zone and waste some time. And I said, ‘Okay, very good. “”
So when Esposito collected the disc from the plates and Mahovlish collected it in the neutral zone, the plan at the time was to carry the disc through the zone and wait for Esposito as a trailer. By the time he bumped into Lulen and saw only Soviet defender Yevgeny Palladyev between him and the net, well, the plan changed. “It was a one-on-one match with the defender and he froze so I moved around the defender and went into the net,” Mahofflish said. “And I ended up scoring that goal. I was very new and only used to killing penalties.”
That goal essentially put the match out of hand, with Mahvlitch’s older brother, Frank, scoring a goal later in the period to claim the win. Of the four matches Canada won, the second match was the most decisive victory, and the only one with a difference of more than one goal. Sure enough, the Canadian team was on a mission in Toronto to assert itself after the embarrassment of the first game. Canada focused even harder on defense and playing a physical game and it paid off.
“Throughout the training camp, I don’t think we’re focused enough on defense,” said defender Serge Savard. “All the time it was goals, goals, goals… How many goals are we going to win? But in this match, we brought some defense into the game.”
The other big difference was the goalkeeper. There’s no fact that Dryden struggled so hard in Game 1, spending a terrible time adjusting to the Soviets’ speed and ability to play a crowded game in front of the net, a departure from NHL teams that played much more in straight lines. Esposito was much better at predicting what the Soviets would do. A team that played against him helped him a lot better than they did with Dryden. They checked out more aggressively and were much better defensively, which made for a much easier night for Esposito.
And after watching Tretillac stone them on all 10 shots in the first period, Canada got even more aggressive in the second half. They unleashed 16 shots on Tretiak, all but one of which were stopped by the player who emerged as the series’ most surprising star. But the Canadian players didn’t allow themselves to be upset or frustrated, and by the time Frank Mahofflish scored a one-off from Stan Mikita midway through the third inning, Canada was rewarded for playing well.
“They were more respectful than us in the second match,” said Soviet captain Boris Mikhailov. “They understood that we can play hockey well. They played very well, a very physical match. We have never seen such a style of game.” The Soviets were already upset after a match in which the American-born referee allowed Canada to get away with what they thought was a dirty game.
Sinden knew he needed to change the look of the lineup from Game 1 and sat on the GAG Line team for the New York Rangers of Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield. Prior to the match, Rattle was awarded the Lester B. Pearson Player of the Year award as per the players’ choice. It was a risky move and it paid off. Wayne Cashman and JB Barris join the squad to spark a spark. Sinden also entered the defensive duo of Chicago Black Hawks from Stapleton and Bill White, also adding on the static influence of Serge Savard. After the second match, a collective sigh could be heard across Canada. “Enjoy the victory, but don’t rejoice in it,” Sinden told his players after the match. “We have six games to play. Enjoy it tonight, savor it, but we have a lot of games to play.”