VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- It was a hard-fought, high scoring game, and the Vancouver Canucks certainly were not going to let the Red Wings win it easily. Yet win it they did, with star performances from Chris Chelios, Igor Larionov, and Brett Hull, taking a 6-4 victory to win the Western Conference Quarterfinal series four games to two.
Dan Cloutier has not been the same since he let in Nick Lidstrom's shot from center ice in Game Three. The Canucks started him in net for Game Six anyway, and the Red Wings got off to an early lead. Tomas Holmstrom scored the first goal just over a minute into the game. Igor Larionov put the puck towards the net, and Holmstrom was able to get the rebound and lift it in past Cloutier.
Larionov scored a few minutes later. Cloutier came out of the net to clear the puck away, but Luc Robitaille beat him to it and sent it out front to Larionov, who made an easy shot into the empty net. Vancouver pulled Cloutier and replaced him with Peter Skudra after that, and that shook up the Canucks enough to let them take advantage of their first power play of the game.
Jiri Fischer took a roughing penalty for retaliating against Matt Cooke who was knocking Sergei Fedorov around, and the Red Wings ran into penalty trouble. A minute into the penalty, Ed Jovanovski fired the puck from the blue line, and it bounced off the leg of Chris Chelios and down into the net between Dominik Hasek's legs.
Buoyed by their momentum, the Canucks scored again thirty-four seconds later. Two Canucks got going on a two-on-one towards Hasek's net. Steve Duchesne was able to hold position and take the passing lane away, but Henrik Sedin held onto the puck, then fired it over Hasek's shoulder and into the net.
The Red Wings played a calmer game in the start of the second period, keeping control of the puck and letting the momentum slip away from Vancouver. It paid off for them when the Canucks ran into penalty problems. The problem? The penalty went to Detroit.
Steve Duchesne went to the box for cross-checking, and Vancouver was trying to set up their scoring play, but Kris Draper got the puck away and into the Canucks' zone. He squeezed between the boards and Jovanovski, managing to put the puck towards Skudra, as Jovanovski knocked him down into the goal crease. The puck rebounded towards center, and Nick Lidstrom skated in and put it into the net.
Just thirty seconds later, during the same penalty, the Red Wings scored yet another shorthanded goal. This time, Steve Yzerman and Chris Chelios got the puck out of the defensive zone, and up to Brett Hull, who got in all alone against Skudra. He went up the right wing side, almost to the goal line, before taking a tight angle shot that rang off the far goalpost and into the net over the sprawling Skudra.
Hull scored again before the end of the period. This one was a Detroit power play goal, while Murray Baron sat in the penalty box on a holding call. Larionov carried the puck into the zone and tapped it to his left at the blue line. Hull got the pass, took a few strides towards the goal, and unleashed a powerful wrist shot which went into the net high over Skudra's shoulder.
Vancouver scored again in the third, just at the very end of a holding the stick penalty to Jason Williams. Jovanovski fired from the blue line. The puck hit Mathieu Dandenault, and Hasek dropped to stop it. The puck stayed free, however, and Henrik Sedin scraped it into the net.
Hull answered with another power play goal with just over five minutes left to play. Chelios sent the puck from the right point up to Larionov behind the net, and Larionov centered out front to Hull. In classic Brett Hull style, he one-timed a laser-quick wrist shot, down on one knee. The puck bounced off Jovanovski and in for the hat trick.
The Canucks weren't quite ready to give up yet. They pulled their goalie when they gained an offensive zone faceoff with 3:30 remaining, and they were able to score. The Red Wings had a tough time clearing the puck, and Trevor Linden's shot caused Hasek to drop down low to block. The rebound came free, and Cooke was able to get it and put it into the mostly empty net.
Darren McCarty was sent to the box for holding with 2:34 left. Skudra had to come back in for the faceoff, but edged off again once Vancouver had puck control, giving the Canucks a six-on-four advantage. Hasek made the necessary big saves, the penalty was killed off, and the series was won.
The Red Wings will begin their Western Conference Semi-Final series next week, probably on Thursday. Their opponent will be either the St. Louis Blues or the Los Angeles Kings, depending on whether or not the Kings can gain a victory over the Colorado Avalanche in Game Seven of their series.
Notes: Detroit's pair of shorthanded goals were the fourth fastest pair of shorthanded goals ever scored in the playoffs?. This was Brett Hull's first ever playoff hat trick. It was also his twenty-second career playoff game-winning goal, second place all time. The only person ahead of him is Wayne Gretzky, with a total of twenty-four?. This is only the second time one of Scotty Bowman's teams has been down 0-2 in a playoff series and then come back to win. The other one was the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992, and they went on to win the Stanley Cup. A good omen for the Red Wings? We'll know for sure in about a month and a half.