National Hockey League President John Ziegler wore a red tie tonight as he presented the Challenge Cup to the Soviet national team. It seemed more appropriate than a white flag.
The NHL tried to turn history's biggest hockey game into a massacre and, instead, wound up being destroyed on the scoreboard. The Soviets won the finale, 6-0, and the hit-happy NHL All-Stars finished the three-game series with 94 minutes 54 seconds of scoreless hockey while losing the last two games.
Each coach gambled with a fresh goaltender tonight. Soviet strategist Viktor Tikhonov chose 23-year-old Vladimir Myshkin, a 5-foot-7 blond, instead of old reliable Vladislav Tretiak, who had played all eight games in the great 1972 series and the first two of this one. Myshkin responded by blocking all 24 shots fired his way, including breakaways by Gil Perreault, Guy Lafleur, Anders Hedberg and Mike Bossy.
By game's end the crowd of 17,545, largely antagontistic most of the night, was cheering Myshkin's saves and he said afterward, a gold medallion as the game's No. 1 star dangling from his neck, that "I didn't understand that, I was too busy."
Boston's 38-year-old Gerry Cheevers, thrown into the pressure cooker by NHL Coach Scotty Bowman, understood fully what the fans were telling him, as they chanted "Ger-ry" and uttered derisive cheers whenever he touched the puck in the last 10 minutes.
Cheevers stopped only three of seven Soviet shots in the final period, but as Bowman said, "We didn't score any goals, so it had no bearing."
The NHL stars spent the first period roughing up the opposition, apparently confident that NHL referee Andy Van Hellemond would not issue the invitations to the penalty box prescribed in the rules. The Soviets just kept getting up and making passes and finally skill prevailed over intimidation.
Hit by two shocking circumstances less than two minutes apart in the second period, the NHL never recovered. First Boris Mikhailov broke the scoreless deadlock with his third goal of the series. Then Van Hellemond called his first penalty, against Boston's Don Marcotte for elbowing.
When the Soviet power play made it 2-0, disaster was beckoning the NHL. Apparently geared to a physical assault, the Canadians and Swedes could not make the adjustment back to hockey. And as their frustrations increased in the third period, the Soviets earned their revenge by pouring pucks past Cheevers and dancing delightedly around the Madison Square Garden ice.
It was a great victory for a team that was playing in front of unfriendly fans, in a smaller rink than it is accustomed to, dodging foul blows the referee was ignoring and without two of its better defensemen, who were left at home with injuries.
Bowman conceded the Soviets were the best team he had ever seen and added, "I suspected they were strong. The way they played tonight proved it. I have no excuses. We did everything we could. We prepared our team to the best of our ability."
Mikhailov's game-winner was set up when Montreal's Bob Gainey lost the puck to Alexander Golikov at the NHL blue line. Golikov passed to Mikhailov, who broke down the right wing, outdistancing defenseman Barry Beck of Colorado, and lifted the puck over Cheevers.
After Marcotte was chased, Helmut Balderis' feed from the right-wing boards was deflected in the slot by Golikov, the puck sliding between Cheevers' legs.
Soviet defenseman Valeri Vasilyev was sent off for holding and Lafleur skated in from the left point unchallenged, to be foiled by Myshkin, whose only previous experience against NHL opposition had seen him allow 15 goals in three games on the Soviet Wings' recent tour.
Myshkin stopped excellent shots by Hedberg and Bossy in the third period before Van Hellemond, after ignoring a flagrant charge by Beck, also disdained a dive by Philadelphia's Bill Barber while the crowd demanded a Soviet penalty. Play moved quickly to the other end and Balderis converted a pass from Irek Gimayev to begin a flood of Soviet goals.
Three more pucks sailed past Cheevers as the NHL players skated in disarray, their 60-year grip on world hockey supremacy ended.
The Soviets protested a decision by Van Hellemond at length in the second period, when he declined to call a penalty on Cheevers for smothering the puck behind the goal line. Police rushed to the Soviet bench and Mikhailov alternately screamed at Van Hellemond and banged his stick on the ice.
"The referee should have penalized him, but he only gave him a warning and it did not change the game at all," Mikhailov said."Yes, we are proud of the victory, very proud. We have proved our skill."
At about the same time, the Islanders' Bryan Trottier planted himself in the Soviet crease and Myshkin shoved him away. Trottier then punched Myshkin to the ice and each player was penalized for roughing.
Despite the indignities they suffered and the opportunity to rub it in, the Soviets were gracious victors.
"Actually, the two best teams of the world have confronted each other and the result indicated that ours was the best team," said Viacheslav Koloskov, the deputy minister in charge of hockey. "This, however, does not indicate that hockey is poorer in Canada than in our country. You could gather three teams as good as this team, but we could not have done the same.
"We said before this series that it was merely an important stage in our preparation for the championship of the world. This was our opinion before the victory and we hold the same opinion after the victory."
It should be fun to win two world championships in one year.