The Western Conference rivalry between the Red Wings and the Vancouver Canucks continued in fine form Thursday evening with a fast-paced, intense game culminating in a 3-2 Detroit victory.
The Canucks opened the scoring very early in the game, before most fans at the Joe had even quite settled into their seats. Brendan Morrison won a faceoff in Detroit's defensive zone. The puck got back to Todd Bertuzzi, who flipped it over to Ed Jovanovski. Jovanovski sent it to Markus Naslund at the right point. Naslund took a few steps towards the net and fired. Bertuzzi had moved over to screen Dominik Hasek, and the puck flew in over Hasek's glove hand at 1:11.
The Red Wings evened up the game with their first power play chance. Jarkko Ruutu was sent out for hooking, and it only took the power play unit nine seconds to get the goal. Mathieu Schneider passed the puck along the blue line to Nicklas Lidstrom at the left point. Lidstrom skated the puck forward, then saw a tiny passing lane through the mass of bodies in the goal crease. He sent the puck through, and Brendan Shanahan was waiting on the other side with his stick blade on the ice ready to flip the puck into the net behind Dan Cloutier.
Marek Malik regained the lead for the Canucks just three minutes later. He took a pass from Jovanovski, then shot the puck on net from the left point. Hasek was off balance because Jiri Fischer had been shoved up against him, and the puck was able to find its way into the net.
Malik took an interference penalty with only 1:25 left in the period, and this time it took only five seconds for the Red Wings' power play to score. Steve Yzerman won the draw back to Shanahan, who passed neatly to Lidstrom at the blue line. Lidstrom waited just long enough for Tomas Holmstrom to move in front of Cloutier as a screen, then let fly a hard shot which sailed in over Cloutier's right shoulder.
The second period was time for Hasek to shine. The Vancouver offense did whatever they could to test him, but he held strong against the 15 shots he faced in the period.
Hasek was aided by his defense, especially during Kris Draper's five minute major penalty for boarding. The penalty killers did an excellent job of clearing the puck and making the Canucks chase it all the way to their end of the ice. Hasek made a brilliant double save against two rapid-fire, close range shots by Bertuzzi, in his traditional "slinky-for-a-spine" style. The Red Wings apparently got tired of playing defense on the penalty kill; in fact, almost the whole last minute of the major penalty consisted of shorthanded pressure against Cloutier.
Some fans in the front row received an unexpected surprise early in the third period. Fischer checked Daniel Sedin into the boards behind Hasek""into the boards and right through the glass. A large Sedin-shaped piece of plexiglass fell to the floor at the fans' feet.
The pause needed for the glass repair took some of the momentum out of the game, and both teams played a little more carefully through the third period. Neither team wanted to be the one to make the mistake that would cost the game. Once again, the Red Wings went right down to the wire before pulling out the game winning goal.
Ray Whitney shot the puck on net from the right half boards. Cloutier made the save, but as he attempted to shove the puck into the corner and out of harm's way, it was intercepted by Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk centered the puck for Whitney, who had moved into the high slot, and Whitney backhanded a shot past Cloutier with 1:06 left to play. The Canucks pulled their goalie for the final minute, seeking overtime, but they simply could not put the puck past Hasek again.
Vancouver outshot Detroit by a count of 38 to 31, giving Hasek a save percentage of .947 and Cloutier a save percentage of .903.
The Red Wings' next game will be Saturday night when they travel to Pittsburgh to face Mario Lemieux and the Penguins at Mellon Arena.
Notes: Brett Hull sat out this game with a sore back, ending a streak of 211 consecutive games played. Jiri Hudler made his first appearance in the regular season lineup to take Hull's place.... Bertuzzi's assist on Vancouver's first goal was his 400th career point.... Derian Hatcher left the game early in the first period and did not return. Team personnel reported that Hatcher sprained his knee and had gone for further tests.
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