RALEIGH, North Carolina -- It was the third longest game ever played in the Stanley Cup Finals. It was the longest game yet in the 2002 playoffs. And it was finally won by the oldest player ever to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Finals. Igor Larionov played the hero to give the Red Wings a 3-2 victory in triple overtime and a 2-1 lead in the series.
The first period had good pressure early by Carolina, but then the Red Wings got two power plays right in a row. They were unable to convert, but they were able to take control of the game. As momentum from the power plays waned, Carolina was able to increase the pressure again, and Josef Vasicek opened the scoring with just over five minutes to go in the opening period. Detroit failed to clear the puck from their zone, and Vasicek picked it up in the circle, eluded Steve Duchesne, and wristed a shot high over Dominik Hasek's blocker.
The Red Wings answered early in the second period. Kirk Maltby and Aaron Ward were both in the penalty box for unsportsmanlike conduct, creating a four-on-four situation. Brett Hull beat Glen Wesley to pick up an errant Carolina pass in the Hurricanes' zone, and passed neatly to Igor Larionov at the bottom of the left circle. Larionov one-timed the shot over the shoulder of Arturs Irbe.
Jeff O'Neill regained the lead for the Hurricanes 7:34 into the third period. He slipped in behind Freddy Olausson and got a pass from Ron Francis. O'Neill's shot rose high and fluttered over Hasek's glove into the net. The Hurricanes closed down after that, willing to keep a one-goal lead and unwilling to take any risks that could turn into mistakes. They held onto their lead for a long, long time. Detroit got some shots on net, but they weren't allowed any quality ones, and Irbe was quick to stifle any rebounds.
Finally, with just over a minute to play, the crowd in Raleigh was screaming for their team, ready to celebrate a victory and a series lead. The crowd back in Detroit watching the game on the big screen at Joe Louis Arena was ready to pack up their octopi and go home to regroup for Game Four. That was when Nick Lidstrom and Brett Hull got the job done. Carolina iced the puck, giving the Red Wings a faceoff in the Hurricanes' end. Larionov won the draw cleanly to Lidstrom, who fired hard. Hull redirected the puck in midair, and it soared into Irbe's net.
The first overtime saw an amazing number of scoring chances for Detroit. Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan got away on a glorious two-on-one rush, but Shanahan's shot clanged off the goalpost. Olausson had a clear shot from the right point to the net, but the puck flew off the crossbar. Pavel Datsyuk completely fooled two Carolina defensmen and went right up to the net, but his backhand shot couldn't lift quite high enough to beat Irbe.
Carolina tried to bring some pressure in the second overtime, but they were no match for Hasek and his acrobatic saves. Finally, past the halfway point of the third overtime, the Red Wings got the break they were able to capitalize on. Erik Cole left his post on Detroit's blue line to rush up to the play, and the Red Wings got it out of their own zone, leaving most of the Hurricanes behind. Tomas Holmstrom carried across the Hurricanes blue line and left the puck for Larionov, while Mathieu Dandenault headed for the front of the net. Dandenault created a perfect screen to block Irbe's view, allowing Larionov to skate across the slot and backhand a high shot in to end the game.
Final shots on net added up to fifty-three to forty-three in Detroit's favor. Game Four will play in Raleigh on Monday night, even though Game Three could had very nearly enough minutes to be two games.
Notes: Ron Francis set a record in Game One of this series, being then the oldest player to have ever scored a goal in overtime in a Stanley Cup Final game. Looks like Igor Larionov stole that record cleanly just two games later..... Speaking of being old, certain media personalities who should probably remain nameless have mentioned throughout the playoffs how the Red Wings' advanced age would be a hindrance to them in overtimes and long series, because they are "so old" that they would tire easily. Hmmm. It appeared to this reporter that those young, strong Hurricanes were the ones wearing out as the game dragged on through the overtimes. So much for youth culture in the world of hockey.