Soviets' Ot Win Sets Scene For Wild Series

Posted: September 12, 1987

MONTREAL — As Aleksandr Semak's shot, true as an arrow and just as piercing, sailed past Grant Fuhr's shoulder and into the net 5:33 into overtime, the right question had to come not from the pit of a Canadian's stomach, but from the wildly beating heart of a lover of the sport of hockey.

It was not whether Team Canada, down 1-0 in the best-of-three Canada Cup final to the Soviets after last night's 6-5 overtime loss, can come back. It was: Can it get better than this?

The answer, unquestionably, is "yes" to both. It's not over and it's going to stay spectacular, because these two great teams came down to the last shot last night and are so evenly matched and so marvelously skilled as to be likely to do so again.

If we're lucky, after the final burst of adrenaline tomorrow night, the series will be all even. And then Game 3 Tuesday just might define a new level at which this game can be played.

If last night was an example of what Team Canada and the Soviets can put into a Game 1, the possibilities seem limitless. This, considering the amount of talent on the ice, a four-goal third period that fired thrills in rounds like like a submachine gun, and the dramatic overtime ending, was one of the best games ever played.

It might not have had that unyielding resolve of the 1984 semifinal Game between the Soviets and Team Canada, won by Canada, 3-2, in overtime. Be assured there were a lot of mistakes out there last night.

And maybe no series will ever capture this country's imagination like the first Canada-Soviet one in 1972. But the third period last night was a fan's orgy.

Team Canada, once down 4-1, came from two goals back at the start of the final 20 minutes and took the lead on Wayne Gretzky's goal with only 2:59 to play. Only 32 seconds later the Soviets tied it.

Considering the pace at which these two teams flew at each other and the amount of firepower they possessed, maybe the most remarkable thing about the whole evening was that overtime lasted the 5:33 it did.

Goalie Sergei Mylnikov, who had blown both the Doug Gilmour shot that pulled Canada within one and the Gretzky shot that put Canada ahead, got his left pad out on Gilmour two minutes into the overtime to save the game. Four shifts later, Sergei Lomakin broke a step outside Mark Messier at the Canada line and got the puck inside Messier's reach to Anatoli Semenov. Semenov quickly relayed to the late man, Semak, on a trailer play the Soviets work so well. He moved two steps inside the circle before turning and firing from his off wing.

It was a perfect shot to a spot just off Fuhr's shoulder where a goalie has nothing he can extend. The fans, to their credit, took the time to applaud the two teams for their extraordinary effort. So did Mike Keenan, the Canada coach.

"It was tough to lose after the comeback," Keenan said. "We put everything on the line, but give them credit, they came back, too."

Both comebacks were remarkable. The last time the Soviets blew a three-goal lead in an international tournament, to the best of anyone's recollection, was in the 1972 series with Team Canada. The down side of how well they front-run is their tendency to get rattled late in games they trail. And yet on the very next shift after Gretzky - on a play set up by a Rick Tocchet hit - played Ray Bourque's carom off the backboards and off Mylnikov's lethargic legs to put Canada ahead, the Soviets busied themselves in the Canada end.

Viacheslav Bykov slipped Bourque in the corner, drove behind the net and gained a step on Gretzky. The Soviet center threw the puck out front toward Andrei Khomutov. It appeard Gretzky barely deflected it into Fuhr, who tipped it into Bourque, who felt it go off his leg and cross over the goal line. Khomutov got credit, but it appeared to be Bykov's goal.

"I have always admired (Canada's) ability to come back and have hoped that quality would rub off on our palyers," said Soviet assistant coach Igor Dmitriev. "Maybe tonight it did."

Now, only 32 seconds after Canada appeared to have it squeezed, it was back to being anybody's game. The ways to look at this one ran a spectrum.

The Soviets - scoring two power-play goals and one shorthanded to cancel out Mike Gartner's blast off the wing 1:49 into the first period - were so dominant from the 10th to the 39th minute of the game, it was remarkable that Canada had any chance left to get back in the game.

Alexei Kasatonov's point drive bounced off Doug Gilmour's stick and up over the screened Fuhr's shoulder to tie it, then Vladimir Krutov, the best player on the ice last night, pulled a Viaceslav Fetisov rebound out of Fuhr's reach and went around him for a tuck.

Those two goals followed Brent Sutter and Craig Hartsburg holding penalties. Canada had a chance to get one back when Lomakin hooked Michel Goulet around the neck. But Sergei Makarov hurried Messier at the point, enabling Krutov to step up into the seam and bat the pass out of the air to an already flying Makarov. He was by himself by the time he got to the red line, and went around Fuhr to his forehand to make it 3-1.

Fuhr then blew a 60-foot dipper by Valeri Kamensky and visions of the 1981 8-1 debacle flashed before many a patriot's eye. Keenan called on Tocchet, whose knee strain the coach was hoping he could give more rest, and the Flyer right wing cross-checked Igor Stelnov on his first shift. Craig Hartsburg then hammered Krutov to the ice with a cross-check to the back of the neck.

NHL referee Don Koharski, working the game with the surprising blessing by the Soviets, was calling a lot and calling them well, too. Canada was playing mean, dumb, and generally poorly.

But Bourque's point drive bounced off Kasatonov's leg and by Mylnikov with only 42 seconds left in the second period. So now it was 4-2 and within reach. Gilmour, off a passout by Gartner, took a whack and Mylnikov strangely lifted his leg and watched the puck slide under it.

Koharski waved off a Messier goal that the referee said was guided in by Messier's skate, but Canada still kept coming. Glenn Anderson tied it with a bullet up the slot off a Messier feed. Then Gretzky, alone at the side of the net after Tocchet forced young Anatoli Fedetov to cough up the puck, shoved netward a Bourque shot that had caromed off the backboards. Mylnikov didn't see Gretzky and when he was lazy coming across, the puck hit the goalie's skate and bounced in. Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov stared daggers at Mylnikov

from the bench.

He redeemed himself by snatching a Paul Coffey drive out of the air, then making the big overtime stop on Gilmour. Semak soon ended it, and it was Canada's turn to think of something next.

The locker room was empty. The few players who made themselves available mouthed their cliches and rushed to a charter that took them to Hamilton for tomorrow night's game.

"It was a great game," said Gretzky, "But there's no satisfaction in that when you lose."

That will come in good time. Like 60 more minutes of it tomorrow night in a series that after one game is already nominating itself as one for the ages.

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