HAMILTON, ONTARIO, SEPT. 14 -- The 1972 Super Series, in which Canada won each of the last three games by one goal and defeated the Soviet Union, four games to three with one tie, generally is acknowledged as the most exciting hockey confrontation of all time.
However, if Tuesday's conclusion of the best-of-three Canada Cup final reaches the level of the final series' first two contests, there most likely will be a new standard for judging hockey entertainment.
Wayne Gretzky's fifth assist of the game set up Mario Lemieux's third goal to give Canada a 6-5 victory Sunday night after 30 minutes 7 seconds of sudden-death overtime.
The goal, on which Larry Murphy of the Washington Capitals also assisted with a pinpoint pass to Gretzky, set off a wild celebration among the sellout crowd of 17,026 and the weary Canadian players who had endured overtime defeat by the same score Friday.
"There was a special feeling," Gretzky said. "Everyone was tired, but everybody in here gave it all they had. I gave it all I had. We did what we had to do to win. That's what hockey is all about -- winning. Close doesn't count."
Although Canada did not practice until late this afternoon, the Soviets were on the ice at noon, loosening up from the longest game in the history of international hockey.
Asked whether the Soviets will receive a few extra rubles if they win Tuesday, Soviet Union assistant coach Igor Dimitriev said through an interpreter, "Only the spectators get anything extra. When you're playing at this level, rubles don't matter."
Asked about the play of Gretzky, Dimitriev made a comment that probably will be repeated for the rest of Gretzky's career: "He is a bit like an invisible man. He appears out of nowhere and passes to nowhere. Then a goal is scored."
Canada, which outshot the Soviet Union, 17-13, took a 3-1 lead in that period, which was played at an incredible tempo. Amazingly, the second overtime came close to reaching the same level, with Lemieux scoring on Canada's 13th shot of the second overtime period.
Washington winger Mike Gartner said, "In that spot, everybody wants to be the guy who scores the winner, but one hero makes 19 heroes. You hate to be the guy who missed your check and lost the game, so you think of defense first."
Now, all the players are thinking of is Tuesday and the opportunity to prove they are the best among what certainly rank as the two greatest hockey teams ever assembled.
"We have to win Tuesday, it's that simple," Gartner said.