CALGARY -- First, Scott Fusco slipped the puck past the Soviet goalkeeper. Slightly less than three minutes later, Todd Okerlund pulled the United States within a goal in the third period and variations of this thought swept through the Saddledome: maybe glasnost really means open net.

This was close to heavenly for the Americans and, alas, also as close as they would get to the Soviet Union team last night in an Olympic hockey match as wild and thrilling as anticipated.

For the Soviets, the game seemed to end twice. They glided off the ice after the second period with a 6-2 lead, having also pulled away from a U.S. surge that narrowed the advantage to a goal. Many fans, and a great percentage of reporters who had lined up for scarce seats an hour before faceoff, also left.

Astonishingly, the U.S. team returned, with three-goal vigor that belied its reputation as a no-defense gang unable to rally from even fairly plausible deficits.

"You get the feeling," assistant coach Ben Smith said, "that they don't know a word that begins with Q." He meant quit, and his observation also applied to the Soviets in the last hectic minutes.

The Americans had lost from three goals ahead just two nights earlier, to Czechoslovakia; the sad symmetry last night was battling from four goals back to lose by the same score, 7-5.

Emotion was as sustained as each team's long goal binges. The Soviets controlled the first period with the heady teamwork for which they have been renowned, but supposedly has been lacking for about a year.

The slump has included not winning the world championship last year; not winning the Canada Cup; not winning the Izvestia Cup, in Moscow, or the world junior title. Supposedly, dour coach Viktor Tikhonov was in danger of being replaced.

Many of the great Soviet players are aging. But that was not in evidence early on last night. Not when Sergei Makarov deked in the first goal off a feed from captain Vyacheslav Fetisov.

However, there were two early surprises: empty seats in the Saddledome and the U.S. being shut out in the first period. The Americans' reputation is to score very early and, when inspired, very often.

But the way the Soviets were attacking and playing defense the feeling started to develop that this might be one of those turnip games for the Americans: no blood at all.

The most recent U.S. experience caused Coach Dave Peterson to open with a bit of a gamble. He benched the goalkeeper who many felt had not been even close to mainly responsible for those seven goals Monday.

Anyway, Mike Richter not only was benched but also banished. He wasn't even the backup last night behind Chris Terreri, who has a reputation for being either very good or very bad.

Until the start of the third period, Terreri mostly was very active. The knock against the U.S. team is its overemphasis on offense. In the parlance of this western town, the Americans have too many players off shooting miles out of town and almost nobody back home to guard the homestead.

That was in evidence almost from the start last night. With just under six minutes gone in the first period, Makarov took Fetisov's pass far ahead of the field and scored.

About to be embarrassingly confirmed, it seemed, was concern about that hell-for-the-net U.S. attitude.

"In 1984," said the Canadian coach, Dave King, "we tried for six months to train our team to play a head-to-head game with the Soviets and Czechs. We realized we couldn't do it.

"The talent gap was too great. So we had to come up with a way to compensate, a way to maximize our chances of being successful.

"For us, that was: collect your defense, play a tight-checking game, try to go into the last shift 0-0 and then try to win on that last shift."

Ironically, it kind of came down to that for about eight minutes late in the third period: the U.S. needed one hard, accurate or lucky shot to whistle in to gain a 6-6 tie.

"Call us the runnin' rebels," U.S. general manager Art Berglund said. "We're run and shoot. That's U.S.A. hockey."

It certainly scared the Soviets. Here they were, comfy and confident, at the start of the final period, a 20-minute defensive waltz from quieting their critics.

ABC television also was slack, breaking for action elsewhere. By the time it returned, the four-goal Soviet lead was reduced to 6-4. Then Okerlund and Soviet Sergei Mylnikov collided near the net -- and matters got even more tense.

While the players were colliding, the puck was moving lazily behind Mylnikov's legs. He could not see it; Okerlund could, and scooped it in. Soviets 6, U.S.A. 5.

Inspired, the Americans peppered the Soviet goal for many of the next eight minutes. Brian Leetch's shot got tipped by Craig Janney -- but it cracked off the post. Two other U.S shots were as agonizingly close.

With 2:01 left, the Soviets pulled one of their clever bits of nice passing and accurate shooting and finally put the game on ice.

"Got nothing to lose," Peterson said moments later in ordering goalie Terreri pulled for one final, six-man assault.

There was a piece of controversy with 16 seconds left, Jeff Norton hitting Mylnikov and knocking the puck he'd just caught into the net. Officials disallowed the goal.

Some jostling among a few players immediately followed game's end, but handshakes eventually were exchanged. For the Americans, the performance was plucky but provided a slice of reality: the allotment of Olympic miracles is one per decade.