Heading into the sixth game the Canadians are basically dead in the water. For nearly fifty minutes of game five they had been in good shape and the series was heading for a tie and then the Russians blew them out of the water. They now have no margin for error at all.
Difficult to say what Sinden is thinking at this time. Does he look at the five previous games and realize that his club has been better and that they just have gotten the short end of the stick? Certainly the truth is that the Russian explosion at the end of game five is the exception, not the rule, so perhaps Sinden figures that sooner or later shit is going to start going their way. Or maybe he figures that they are fucked. Even if they get the bounces now it may be too late. What are the chances that after four full games where they were better (albeit slightly at times)and a fifth game where they were the better club for fifty minutes they would be in the position that they are in? What are the chances that they can now run off three straight?
Sinden makes four changes to the lineup for game six. One is a no brainer, one makes sense, one is an odd choice which ends up looking like a stroke of genius and one makes no sense at all. This lineup ends up being what they run with for the last two games as well with the exception of an extra forward (it changes in each game) and the goaltending.
First of all Serge Savard is back. The famous line about Savard is that when he played Canada was unbeaten and when he did not they were winless and his return at least gives the Canadians a fighting chance. He is the best allround defenceman in this tournament for Canada, in my opinion, which is saying a lot considering that Brad Park is amongst his teammates (and Park is very good, there are a few times where he struggles in his own end though). Savard's return means that we see the end of poor Seiling who was the goat on the winner in game five and who, along with Awrey, got absolutely butchered in game one. Good defencemen but just not up to the task. Indeed when Stapleton is doubtful for game eight Sinden tags youngster Dale Tallon as his replacement. He'd seen enough.
So the D is the same as it was in games two and three.
Bergman-Park, Stapleton-White, Lapointe-Savard
Up front Sinden makes two changes. First Frank Mahovlich takes a seat. Its a stunning turn for a player who was the best Canadian in game one. He was effective in game two and then slowly his impact and numbers declined. In a comment thread Bruce McCurdy referred to Mahovlich being a basket case in Moscow, perhaps he can expand on that? Anyhow he is out and Dennis Hull, who played in game four, is in. Hull was meh in game four but his opposite number was Goldsworthy and Esposito, their usual centre, was pretty poor as well. Hull is fast and he gets in on the forecheck quickly and defensively he is passable so its not a terrible move. He certainly did not look out of place in game four. Sinden really has few options at this point. Hadfield has gone home and Mahovlich is on the bench and those are his top two wingers from game one.
As it turns out its a move that works out very very well. Dennis Hull was always in the shadow of his big brother but he was a fine player in his own right. We're not talking Keith Gretzky here. He's a guy who scored a lot of goals over his career with the Hawks.
The second forward move is an odd one but it actually ends up being one of the main reasons Canada is successful in this game. Out comes Gilbert Perreault and in goes Red Berenson who played minimal minutes as the fourth line centre in game one. A curious move, not so much the removal of Perreault, but the insertion of a guy who has not played in quite a while. I think that Sinden looked at the collapse in game five and decided he wanted a guy that he could throw out there who could take care of his own end. Even in the carnage of game one Berenson was pretty low event. That's all I've got but it turns out to quite possibly save the game for the Canadians. Berenson's reward? Well that's another tale.
The forwards are as follows:
The final move is the biggest headscratcher of all. Maybe Sinden just wants to change shit up, maybe he sees something he doesn't like, maybe he wants to shake everyone up but in the first elimination game they face he goes with Dryden instead of Tony Esposito. Sinden's handling of the goalies confuses me. Its not a strict rotation. He goes with Esposito in 2 and 3. Its not a case of going with a guy who has just won a game because he goes back to Esposito after this game.
I just don't get it. Esposito wins game two and ties game three and is excellent in both and he is very very good in game five despite the comeback. Dryden was poor in game one and okay in game four. I don't get it. Having said that it does work out but its just an odd call to make, in my opinion.
This game is a masterpiece from the Canadian point of view with one caveat. Discipline is an enormous issue and it almost costs them the game. We're talking over the top stupid stupid shit, game seven is better but this problem arises again in the final game, most notably when Parise loses his shit. By the end of the game the Canadians have thirty one minutes in penalties while the Russians have a total of four. And you know what? The Canadians are full value for the mess they create. Clarke slashes Kharlamov (the famous slash) and gets a minor and a misconduct. Esposito, who is far better this game after two poor outings, takes a double minor when he runs at a Russian with his elbow up and then takes a major late in the second when he cuts Ragulin open with his stick. To compound matters (and perhaps demonstrating part of the root of the problem) John Ferguson takes a bench minor at this time, putting the Canadians two men down. Bergman takes an unnecessary minor. Hull gets two for a slash. Even the absolutely reliable Ron Ellis takes a bad penalty with time winding down to put the Canadians under the gun one last time.
One Russian goal comes on the PP. At even strength they are strangled. Two scoring chances total in the entire game. No scoring chances at all in the third even with almost five minutes on the power play. Actually the Canadian penalty killers outchance them in the third.
Its a tremendous performance despite the discipline issues. Everyone is in the black for scoring chances and of eleven penalty killers only three are in the red.
Crazy shit. Here are the numbers:
The totals for Corsi - ES 42-35, PP 1-0, SH 6-22, Total 49-57
The totals for scoring chances - ES 14-2 (!), PP 1-0, SH 4-3 Total 19-5
The totals for Faceoffs - at ES 13O, 23N, 17D, on the PP 2O, no others, SH no offensive, 8 neutral, 11 defensive, total 15 offensive zone, 31 neutral zone, 28 defensive zone.
Its a masterpiece at even strength. An absolute masterpiece. And even with seventeen minutes shorthanded the Canadians only allow three scoring chances against and have four themselves.
The game has a nice pace. The Canadian shifts are short, although as usual Esposito's line tends to stay out longer. Just over five minutes in and they have completed four shifts with Clarke's line already having two, so around a minute each for his line and Ratelle's, double that (!) for Esposito's one shift.
There are plenty of scrums or as Hewitt calls them, jam sessions, after the whistle and even guys like Ratelle and Gilbert are initiating these so its clear that the Canadian plan is to be aggressive. Kharlamov takes more abuse than anybody, getting shoved and poked constantly. He gives back though too, at one point punching Clarke.
Halfway through the first Mahovlich and Berenson get their first shift with Gilbert, its a good one but it ends with Bergman taking a needless tripping call. Canada will spend nearly the next seven minutes shorthanded as shortly after Bergman serves his penalty Esposito gets his double minor.
The PK starts with Berenson and Mahovlich in front of Park and Stapleton. Ellis replaces Mahovlich and then Esposito and Parise finish off the PK with White and Savard. Its an uneventful kill as the Russians fail to generate any real chances. A minute later Esposito tries to take a defenceman's head off with a high crosscheck and gets four minutes.
Berenson and Mahovlich start off with Savard and Lapointe and they set the tone for an outstanding effort. The Russians get four shots at the net and three are blocked, two by Berenson. Clarke and Ellis come on and then Mahovlich and Parise finish it off with Park and Bergman. The only scoring chance in four minutes? A dangerous shot by Mahovlich right near the end of the penalty.
Shortly after the Russians generate their first real chance and early in the second they get their second and final chance at even strength. Then Dryden gets beaten on a long shot that he should have.
Now the Canadians really start to push and here we see that finally it appears that Sinden has found the right mix. It is the third line that is the difference. Ratelle, Gilbert and Hull get the puck into the Russian zone and force a faceoff and Clarke's line comes on and the Russians take a penalty. The power play generates very little but when the penalty expires the Ratelle line comes out once again and ignites an explosion. Gilbert drives the net and generates four scoring chances as the Russians cannot contain him or get a hold of the puck. His first shot is blocked and then Tretiak makes two point blank saves on Gilbert before Hull bats a rebound out of the air and into the net. The game is tied.
(This is also a sequence that skews the numbers for this line and for White and Stapleton slightly. All five are full value for the numbers they put up but four scoring chances in ten seconds will help you out there. ;) )
Then Mahovlich and Berenson come out along with Cournoyer. They push the puck down the ice and create a scoring chance, the Russians come back down the ice and then at the end of the shift, just over a minute after Hull scores Cournoyer puts Canada in the lead on a feed from Berenson.
And then fifteen seconds later Henderson steps over the blueline and shoots one that Tretiak must not see through his defender. It ends up in the net. I call this one a Dryden special. Its a goal but I can't say its a chance.
So in a minute and twenty three seconds the Canadians score three goals and take control of the game on the scoresheet.
And then it nearly goes off the rails. It doesn't, thanks to Berenson, Mahovlich, Savard and Lapointe, Park and Bergman and Jean Ratelle. But the Series is in the balance over the next fifteen minutes, give or take.
The intensity rachets up and Lapointe and Vasiliev go off with coincidentals. In the four on four Clarke breaks Kharlamov's ankle. He gets a minor and a misconduct for his troubles. Berenson, Mahovlich, Stapleton and White kill the penalty. Berenson blocks two more shots and generates the only chance in the two minutes.
For the next five minutes things are fine as the Canadians begin to trap the shit out of the Russians. Even Cournoyer is dumping it deep and Esposito (!) stays high as they forecheck and cycle. With Clarke in the box Berenson takes his spot with Ellis and Henderson. Things are going swimmingly and then Hull takes two for a slash. They drop the puck, Esposito loses the draw and its in the net nine seconds later.
And now the Canadians become totally unglued. Esposito rakes Ragulin and cuts him open and gets a major, Ferguson goes apeshit on the bench and earns them another two.
Now they are down two men for two minutes, down one man for five. Just over two minutes left in the second.
Out come Mahovlich, Bergman and Park. Mahovlich wins two draws and keeps the Russians in the neutral zone for a short time before they come pouring in. They get their shot and miss the net and they will never generate another scoring chance in the game.
In the entire game.
With a draw in the Canadian zone and Mahovlich gassed Sinden cannot send Clarke out as he is still in the box. So its Jean Ratelle who get the call and he and Bergman and Park kill off the remainder of the five on three and the period.
To start the third its Berenson and Mahovlich with Savard and Lapointe. The Russians barely get a sniff over the next three minutes. Savard and Lapointe don't leave the ice and Savard is brilliant, at one point skating the puck through three Russians unscathed. Again Berenson generates the one scoring chance in the entire three minutes.
The remainder of the third the Russians do little. Here and there they press but they cannot break through the Canadian checks. The Canadians get on and off the ice quickly, their shifts don't break a minute. Halfway through the third Mahovlich replaces Hull on the Ratelle line. The Russians are shut down. The only quibble with the Canadian performance? Their failure to add to their lead. Again Tretiak does not allow them to add to their total and as a result the Russians are always a goal away.
With just over two minutes left Ellis takes a bad penalty at the Canadian blueline. Mahovlich and Clarke go over the boards with Savard and Lapointe. Mahovlich gets the only chance and then Parise and Esposito replace he and Clarke. The buzzer sounds and its over. Nothing doing for the Russians.
For Sinden it appears that he has found the proper mix for sure. On the blueline all three pairs contribute but its a sign of the Canadian strength that the pair that he leaned on early in the Series, Park and Bergman, are now relied on a little less. They do get the five on three duty but its Savard and Lapointe who get the PK minutes in the third, including at the end of the game. As for Stapleton and White they have gone from being sheltered slightly to also getting heavy minutes and their results are outstanding, even if you factor in the Gilbert flurry that skews them slightly.
For all three pairs the game is fantastic really. Its a tribute to their work and that of the forwards as well that while the Russians spend plenty of time in the Canadian zone (Savard and Lapointe's Corsis are in the red, Bergman and Park barely in the black) they don't generate anything in the way of scoring chances. Bergman and Park are not for one chance against at evens. The Soviets can't break down the Canadian defence and are left to lobbing pucks at Dryden from the perimeter (sometimes not a bad idea - the first goal is a long shot which I did not rate as a chance).
Dryden is left with little work. The Russians have five scoring chances in total. They score on one of them.
Up front Sinden has hit it out of the park. His two extra forwards fill in when needed and when they run out on a regular shift with a third they are just fine, even scoring a goal. And of course their work on the PK saves the game and likely the series. Berenson, for all of his work on the PK, is on for two chances for and none against. Unbelievable. And he's full value for it too.
So what does Sinden do for the next game? He runs out the same lineup with one exception. On a club that has absolutely terrible discipline he replaces Berenson with, wait for it, Bill Goldsworthy.
A true what the fuck moment.
The reminder of the lines are finally set. Of course the Clarke line does its usual work. They shut the Russians down, move the puck the right way, Henderson scores his first of three consecutive game winners and Clarke knocks the best Russian player out of the Series. All in all a good night's work.
Esposito takes two absolutely ridiculous penalties and he's still not the force he was early in the Series but he is better. Cournoyer is a good fit, although the little guy actually scores his goal on a shift with Berenson and Mahovlich. He is not afraid to join Parise in the board work to get Esposito the puck but of course he is an offensive threat himself, a very dangerous one. The Russians respect his speed and so as they back off the Canadians are able to gain the zone and generate chances. With a skill guy on his wing Esposito has someone to work with and the results will come in the last two games.
And with Ratelle, Gilbert and Hull Sinden finally has a third line to work with. He shows that he does not completely trust Hull with his third period move but the 5 on 3 Ratelle move shows that the big centre, so poor in game one, has become a go to guy, as one would expect from one of the greats of the game. The line hovers around even for Corsi, as most of the Canadians do, but they shut the Russians out when it comes to chances and even with the four chance flurry skewing their 'for' numbers, they are still absolutely terrific. Ratelle finishes at eight and oh at even strength. You cannot ask for much more than that.
So the Canadians have life thanks to a game where they strangled the life out of the Russians. Next, game seven goes down to the wire and looks in doubt until Paul Henderson scores a goal that, while not as famous as his game eight goal, is one of the most brilliant individual efforts I have ever seen.