With one win in hand, the NHL had assured itself of a tie in the series, but this created the sort of confidence that is disastrous against the Soviets. Several NHL players said, off the record, that they would beat the Soviets in Game 2, one star saying they would "kick their butts." Coach Perron quietly criticized the goalie, Belosheikin, whose style is hauntingly similar to that of the great Tretiak. "He's very, very quick, but he's not good with the puck around the net, and he gives up rebounds. I think he's in awe of NHL players." Even NHL prez Ziegler became giddy with success, donning a Russian hat, putting his coat on backwards and dazzling the assembled diners at Caf� de la Paix with an impromptu Cossack dance on the eve of Friday's Game 2.
Here's an important point to remember about the Soviet National Hockey Team: It is seldom pushed to play its very best. When you spend 95% of your time trying not to run up scores on teams, as the Soviets do, you cannot wake up one morning and play at the lop of your game. You must first lose, then sleep on it, then spend a practice listening to Tikhonov snap and snarl at the slightest miscue before you begin to i dig deep into your belly. And that is just what the Soviets did Friday night, putting on one of the finest exhibitions of hockey anyone will ever see. "I would have paid my own money to coach in that game," Bob Johnson said later.
The NHL jumped out to an early lead courtesy of Newell, who first miscalled a trip on Soviet forward Sergei Nemchinov—an off-balance Lemieux had skated into him and collapsed—and then seemingly closed his eyes during the power play while Kurri tripped up Soviet defenseman Vyacheslav Fetisov, retrieved the puck and passed out to Messier in the slot. One-zip, NHL.
In the second period, the best of the series, the Soviets took over. Drawing the NHL defense-men away from the net with short, tantalizing passes, the Soviet forwards kept breaking to the slot, accepting whatever punishment awaited them, to be in position to score. The Soviets stormed to a 2-1 lead, and then the 20-year-old forward Valeri Kamensky, who at 6'2", 198 pounds is big enough to clear a path, made the key play of the game. With 19 seconds left in the second period, Kamensky—the next Soviet superstar—walked around Green, then beat Fuhr between the legs to give his side a 3-1 lead. The Soviets eventually stretched that to 5-2, forcing the NHL to resort to the tactic of calling for a stick measurement on Sergei Priakhin with 2:40 left. "That was a bush league maneuver," said one NHL general manager. After Newell ignored one final trip—this one by Gretzky, who then picked up the puck and fed it to Bourque—the NHL closed to 5-3.
"The NHL actually played better tonight than we did on Wednesday," Perron said later, seemingly relieved not to have to play a rubber match, as were most members of the NHL contingent. "But the Russians came to play. More guts on the puck. More intensity."
Tikhonov was equally impressed with the NHL lineup. "That team I really like. Really strong. And, for the first time, disciplined. Of all the teams over the years, this one I admire the most."
Goodwill all around. As for the players, who were all business at Rendez-Vous, forgoing the festive activities to study tapes every night and concentrate on hockey, well, none of them were complaining. "We can do those other things in 10 years, when we've retired," said Poulin, expressing the prevailing sentiment. "I've enjoyed this as much as any single thing to do with hockey."
And Rendez-Vous itself? This much we do know: It won't be an annual affair. Next year the league will hold its All-Star Game in St. Louis, returning to the boring traditional format. "But I am sure Rendez-Vous is going to create children," says the irrepressible Aubut. "I don't know exactly how or where or when, but everybody realizes that maybe we should do more things like Rendez-Vous."
The wheels, you can sense, are already turning. No doubt Monsieur Aubut will think of something.