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Fifty Years Later, Mahovlich's Game 2 Summit Series Goal Lives On

From the moment he extricated himself from Vladislav Tretiak, Peter Mahovlich knew he had scored an epic goal. In the years since, he has been reminded many times. That’s bound to happen when you score one of the most spectacular shorthanded goals in the game's history.

From the moment he extricated himself from Vladislav Tretiak, Peter Mahovlich knew he had scored an epic goal. In the years since, he has been reminded many times. That’s bound to happen when you score one of the most spectacular, timely and important shorthanded goals in the game's history.

But it was almost five decades later, in a conversation with Ken Dryden, that Mahovlich was made to realize the sheer brilliance of the goal that put Canada up 3-1 in Game 2 of the Summit Series, which was played 50 years ago Sunday. Dryden was not playing that night in Toronto and coach Harry Sinden decided that when either Dryden or Tony Esposito was not playing, he would be a healthy scratch, so Ed Johnston was the backup goalie for all eight games. So Dryden was actually in the stands when Mahovlich scored the goal.

“Kenny told me, ‘When you made that move and scored that goal, I said ‘ooh, aah, eee!’ ” Mahovlich said. “Kenny Dryden, the articulate master of words, that’s what he told me. He couldn’t find the words.”

It’s tough to find fault with that. The importance of that goal in the series, while not on par with the three-game winners Paul Henderson scored, cannot be overstated. Coming off the biggest humiliation in Canadian hockey history just two days before, Team Canada went into Game 2 with the sobering knowledge that this would not be easy. Nine players who had played in Game 1 of the series, a 7-3 loss to the Soviets, were not in the lineup for Game 2. 

After spotting themselves a 2-0 lead early in the third period, Canada saw its lead cut to 2-1 when Alexander Yakushev scored a power-play goal with Bobby Clarke off for slashing. When Pat Stapleton got called for hooking less than a minute later, Sinden sent Mahovlich and Phil Esposito out to kill the penalty.

“Phil came to me on the bench and said, ‘We’re going to go out to kill this penalty and, instead of just dumping the puck down the ice, any time we get it, we’re going to hold onto it a bit and try to keep possession as much as possible in the neutral zone and waste some time,’ ” Mahovlich said. “And I said, ‘Well, very good.’ ”

So when Esposito banked the puck off the boards and Mahovlich gathered it in the neutral zone, the plan at the time was to carry the puck through the zone and wait for Esposito as the trailer. By the time he hit the blueline and saw only Soviet defenseman Evgeny Paladiev between him and the net, well, the plan changed. “It was a one-on-one with the defenseman and he froze and that’s when I made the move to go around the defenseman and drive to the net,” Mahovlich said. “And I ended up scoring that goal. I was pretty fresh and I was only used basically to kill penalties.”

That goal put essentially put the game out of reach, with Mahovlich’s older brother, Frank, scoring later in the period to seal the victory. Of the four games Canada won, Game 2 was the most decisive victory, the only one that was by a margin of more than one goal. To be sure, the Canadian team was on a mission in Toronto to assert itself after the embarrassment of Game 1. Canada focused much more diligently on defense and playing a physical game and it paid off.

“All through training camp, I don’t think we really put enough emphasis on defense,” said defenseman Serge Savard. “All the time it was goals, goals, goals…how many goals are we going to beat them by? But in this game, we brought some defense into the game.”

Another big difference was goaltending. There is no sugar-coating the fact that Dryden struggled mightily in Game 1, having a terrible time adjusting to the speed of the Soviets and their ability to play a busy game in front of the net, a departure from NHL teams that played much more in straight lines. Esposito was much better at anticipating what the Soviets were going to do. And he was helped by a team that played much better in front of him than they did for Dryden. They forechecked much more aggressively and were far better defensively, which made for a much easier night for Esposito.

And after watching Tretiak stone them on all 10 shots in the first period, Canada got even more aggressive in the second period. They unleashed 16 shots on Tretiak, all but one of which was stopped by the player who was emerging as the most surprising star of the series. But the Canadian players did not allow themselves to get deflated or frustrated and by the time Frank Mahovlich scored on a one-timer from Stan Mikita midway through the third period, Canada had been rewarded for their fine play.

“They were more respectful of us in the second game,” said Soviet captain Boris Mikhailov. “They understood that we could play good hockey. They played very well, a very physical game. We had not seen such a style of game.” The Soviets were indeed irked after the game that the American-born referee allowed Canada to get away with what they thought was dirty play.

Sinden knew he needed to change the complexion of the lineup from Game 1 and sat the entire New York Rangers’ GAG Line of Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield. Prior to the game, Ratelle had been awarded the Lester B. Pearson Award as the league’s MVP as chosen by the players. It was a risky move that paid off. Wayne Cashman and J.P. Parise came into the lineup to provide a spark. Sinden also inserted the Chicago Black Hawks’ defense pairing of Stapleton and Bill White, also adding the steadying influence of Serge Savard. After Game 2, a collective sigh could be heard across Canada. “Enjoy the victory, but don’t gloat over it,” Sinden told his players after the game. “We’ve got six games to play. Enjoy it tonight, savor it, but we’ve got a lot of games to play.”

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