Late last Sunday night, Boris Mikhailov, the small, clear-eyed, crooked-nosed captain of the Soviet National Hockey Team, raised a single finger, wagged it in the direction of the Godfather of Canadian hockey, Alan Eagle-son, and proceeded to utter the stunning words that no Canadian thought he would ever hear. "Soviets: one," Mikhailov said, smiling. He raised a second finger. "Kanadski: two."
Right you are, Boris. In hockey, Canada is now No. 2.
Mikhailov and his Soviet teammates had just won the first-ever Challenge Cup series—the Battle of the Century, as it was called in Canada—by annihilating the NHL All-Star team 6-0 in the third, and rubber, game at Madison Square Garden, and for the first time the world of hockey belonged to them. Yes, six-zip. Against Lafleur, Robinson and Potvin. Against Trottier, Bossy and Gillies. Against Clarke, Savard and Sittler. Against Barber and Cheevers. Six-zip.
The Soviets rallied to victory after losing the first game 4-2 on Thursday night and after falling behind 4-2 early in the second period of the second game on Saturday afternoon. For the first 90 minutes of the series it seemed as though the Soviets had left their legs back in Moscow; the NHL players easily beat them to the puck and completely disrupted their normally crisp pass plays. Then, suddenly, the Soviets unleashed their might, and the final 90 minutes were so one-sided in favor of the U.S.S.R. that the Soviet players seemed to become bored by it all.
In one quick swoop they whipped three goals past a beleaguered Ken Dry-den to win the second game 5-4. Once the Soviets went ahead on Vladimir Golikov's goal early in the third period, they spent the rest of the game playing a private game of keep-away with the puck. And then there was the ultimate 6-0 insult on Sunday.
Over the final 90 minutes of play—half the series—the NHL was outscored by an embarrassing 9-0 and got off only 33 shots at Soviet goaltenders Vladislav Tretiak and Vladimir Myshkin.
"We prepared ourselves as well as we could, and we worked as hard as we could," said Montreal's Bob Gainey. "It's tough to take."
What made it especially tough to take was the fact that the NHL seemed to have the series under control after winning the opening game with ease and enjoying a two-goal lead midway through the second. For a time it appeared that the U.S.S.R. players were more interested in their sightseeing expeditions. On Wednesday some of them had taken in a porn flick while others, wanting to "see a movie with sex, music and a historical background," as Center Vladimir Petrov put it, went to Superman.
While the Soviets were sleepwalking, the NHL players were high enough to leap tall buildings at a single bound. It took all of 16 seconds for Guy Lafleur to take a pass from Bobby Clarke, fake Tretiak onto the ice and slide the puck behind him for the first goal of the series. Mike Bossy and Mikhailov traded power-play goals, then Gainey scored the eventual game winner by breaking past Defenseman Sergei Starikov and lifting a forehand over the kneeling Tretiak's shoulder for a 3-1 NHL lead.
The Soviets never recovered. The key to the NHL's success was forechecking; muscular forwards such as Clark Gillies and Gainey easily bodied the Soviet defensemen off the puck.