VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Didn't we see this game already?
We had the Red Wings down two games to the Vancouver Canucks, and heading out for a third game in Vancouver. We had both teams putting up quite a fight. And then we had Nicklas Lidstrom scoring a most timely goal, Dan Cloutier coming undone, and the Red Wings coming up with an important win.
Obviously no one counts a regular season series as more important than a playoff series. But the Red Wings' 5-2 win over the Canucks was vital in its own way. The defense came back. The offense came back. The Wings gained two points and inched back in front of the Canucks in the standings. And maybe most importantly, they reminded the Canucks (thought by many analysts to be the most likely team to challenge the Wings for the Western Conference Title this year) of that plain old Detroit stubbornness that came through and won the Conference Quarterfinals last season.
The Red Wings controlled the game from the beginning, even with two penalties to kill off one after the other midway through the first period. The Canucks did outshoot Detroit, but the Wings' defense was so careful that most of the shots were weak shots or hurried, badly aimed shots. Manny Legace was in the net to skillfully knock the puck aside anytime it got through.
Tomas Holmstrom's hard work led to the opening goal late in the period. He battled for the puck in the corner and along the boards. Brendan Shanahan came in to help and got the puck out towards center, then made a pass to Sergei Fedorov, who was all alone in front to the net. Fedorov flipped the puck in high over Cloutier.
Legace was called upon just as the period was ending. The Canucks were on a power play, and Legace made two difficult saves on Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi right in a row to keep the lead for Detroit.
Patrick Boileau scored his first NHL goal 1:59 into the second period to increase the Red Wings' lead. He was just off the bench and into the Vancouver zone. Fedorov saw him open and made the pass across, and Boileau's shot went right through Cloutier.
The Red Wings continued their dominant play throughout the second period, but a bad bounce with only 17 seconds remaining let the Canucks get on the board. The Canucks were pressuring in the Detroit zone. A clearing pass was attempted, but instead of sending it straight out along the boards, it was sent out center to Dmitri Bykov. The pass missed Bykov's stick completely and bounced off his skates right to Naslund, whose quick shot went past Legace and in under the crossbar.
The late goal gave the Canucks a lot of energy to start the third period, and they were able to score again before two minutes had gone by. Brendan Morrison stole the puck from Kirk Maltby just at the blue line, and passed it to Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi carried to the net and whacked at the puck, which deflected up and over Legace to tie the game.
The Red Wings were not thrown off by the two quick goals. They were patient. They calmed the game down and took back the momentum, and their patience was rewarded with 6:45 left to play. Henrik Zetterberg had the puck along the left side boards, and Nicklas Lidstrom got over in front of the net without being noticed. The pass came across, and Lidstrom put it high over Cloutier.
Detroit knew better than to sit back on a one goal lead. They continued to pressure in the offensive zone. When the Canucks tried to carry the puck out to center, Darren McCarty slowed Naslund down just enough that Maltby could get the puck away from him, and Maltby and McCarty went in alone against Sami Salo. Maltby held onto the puck long enough to fool Salo before passing across to McCarty, who put the shot past Cloutier.
Bertuzzi was sent off to the box for holding with 4:03 left to play, and the Red Wings capitalized on their power play chance. Fedorov stole the puck from the Vancouver player attempting to clear it at the blue line and carried it deep. He made a saucer pass to Holmstrom right in front of the net, and Holmstrom's shot hit the underside of the crossbar and fell into the net to put the game away.
The Canucks led in shots on net by a count of 29-24. The Red Wings will finish out the Western portion of their road trip Saturday night against the Calgary Flames. Detroit has a 3-0 record against the Flames this year. Two of the previous matchups were shutouts for Curtis Joseph.
Notes: Chris Chelios sat out this game with a flare-up of his previous leg injury.