It took the Canadiens only 3:50 to wipe the smugness from the Rangers' faces as Yvon Lambert and Guy Lafleur tied the game at 2-2. Then, four minutes later—at 16:27—Bob Gainey beat Ranger Goalie John Davidson for what proved to be the winning score. In less than eight minutes Montreal had scored as many goals on Davidson—three—as he had allowed in any of his 14 previous playoff games, discounting overtimes.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, Montreal was just tuning up. Skating like the Canadiens of old (three steps forward), Montreal added three more goals—six straight for the game—as Dryden was shutting out New York the rest of the way. The 6-2 win evened the series.
Coach Fred Shero admitted that his Rangers were due for a bad game—they had gone a month without one—but it was an undeniably listless performance, one that, as Montreal Coach Scotty Bowman put it, "took the air out of their balloon."
"Boy, did I play rotten," said Ranger Center Phil Esposito. Part of Esposito's problem was his concern with Bowman's tactics. Two of Montreal's lesser-known defensemen, Rod Langway and Rick Chartraw, had been a little too aggressive for Espo's liking during the first two games, and he went on record as saying they were Bowman's personal messengers of ill will. Bowman and Esposito had held a mutual grudge since the 1976 Canada Cup tournament, in which Esposito was unceremoniously benched by the Canadiens' coach. In one amusing interview back in New York, Ranger major-domo Sonny Werblin accused Bowman of sending Langway onto the ice to "ram his stick into Espo's eyes" and called for his banishment from the world of sport.
Shero would have none of Esposito's or Werblin's whining. "Phil's a big boy, he can take care of himself," he said. "It's a man's game. Give him a stick if the ref doesn't stop it."
When the series moved to New York for Game 3 Thursday night, Montreal played flawlessly and won 4-1, holding New York to just 20 shots on Dryden. The only goal the Rangers could put past him was a fluky shot by Ron Duguay that deflected off Savard's skate.
Meanwhile, Dryden's down-and-up week was further clouded by reports that he was a) considering retirement after the season in order to study for his bar exam, b) considering a reverse defection of sorts to the Soviet Union so he could play hockey there for a season—which prompted lots of Siberia jokes in Montreal—and c) considering writing a book on the order of a Ball Four on ice. Dryden denied none of these—stressing that they were ideas—although he did say, "You end up writing a book that suits your personality, and Ball Four isn't exactly my personality." But he denied feeling vindicated by the two wins. Then, when a reporter said he had timed the Garden's pregame standing ovation for the Rangers at two minutes, Dryden couldn't resist a friendly poke at the fans in Montreal. "Even a sitting ovation would be something there," he said. "Even sitting silence."
Esposito was held scoreless again in Game 3, and at one point the always pacifists Esposito was so frustrated that he actually threw a punch—maybe the first of his 18-year career—at Langway, a 21-year-old native of Boston who had once—in a gentler time—received a scholastic hockey award from Esposito, then a Bruin.
Esposito finally broke his mini-slump Saturday night in Game 4, which the Canadiens won 4-3 in overtime. Esposito set up the Rangers' second goal, then put New York ahead 3-2 in the third period by snapping a shot through Dryden's legs. But two minutes later, Gainey—the best forward in the series—evened the score with a spectacular individual effort. When Davidson cleared the puck into the corner, Gainey bowled over Defenseman Dave Maloney, picked up the puck, skated out in front and shot it past Davidson.
Montreal totally dominated the overtime and, in fact, scored twice—fairly unusual for sudden death. First, Larry Robinson slapped a long shot past Davidson, but the puck traveled so fast that neither the goal judge nor the referee saw it enter the net and slingshot out. But then Savard, who seems to pace himself for such moments, took a pass from Lafleur and backhanded it over Davidson's shoulder—and the red light went on.