VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- The Detroit Red Wings are
trying to make a statement before the playoffs. The Vancouver
Canucks are struggling just to get there.
In a battle of teams headed in opposite directions, the Red
Wings scored early and often, taking advantage of numerous
Vancouver mistakes and penalties to easily beat the Canucks 7-3 on
Despite needing 65 minutes and a shootout to win in Edmonton the
night before, Detroit outshot Vancouver 17-3 in the first period
and 37-24 overall, racing to a 4-0 lead and a sixth straight win to
stay atop the NHL standings.
"It seems every game we're playing against teams battling for
that last playoff spot and those are good games for us to get ready
for playoff hockey," Jason Williams said after scoring two goals.
"We want to get it into their heads that they're not going to beat
us in the playoffs."
After losing six of the last seven, the Canucks would be happy
just to get there.
With 78 points, Vancouver dropped into a tie with Anaheim for
the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But
the Canucks have played three more games than the Mighty Ducks.
"We're fragile," captain Markus Naslund said. "It seems every
mistake we make is in the net."
There were plenty to choose from against Detroit. Williams and
Tomas Holmstrom took advantage of turnovers to score 40 seconds
apart early in the first period.
First, Mark Mowers stole the puck from defenseman Keith Carney
to create a 3-on-1 break that Holmstrom converted with a wrist shot
from the slot. Naslund then coughed it up inside his blue line and
Steve Yzerman, from his knees, backhanded the loose puck to
Williams, who beat Alex Auld between the legs on a breakaway.
"Our approach going in was they were a desperate team and if we
could get of to a good start we could get them to press," said
Brendan Shanahan, who added his 31st goal on a breakaway 12 seconds
into the third period. "It's certainly a lot easier, a lot less
taxing to play with the lead."
It got easier when the Canucks started a parade to the penalty
box with a too-many-men-on-the-ice call 2 minutes later. Vancouver
defenseman Eric Weinrich was whistled for holding on the ensuing
Detroit power play and Nicklas Lidstrom converted the two-man
advantage with a point shot through Holmstrom s screen at 10:55.
Pavel Datsyuk, who also had two assists, made it 4-0 on a
breakaway 1:30 into the second to keep the Red Wings atop the NHL
with 99 points, one more than Ottawa.
"One of the reasons we've been so good for so long is the group
of players we have are very competitive professionals," Shanahan
said. "If we were the kind of team that looked at the standings
and said we can take it easy tonight we wouldn't have the kind of
success we've had."
The Canucks took three more penalties before the first period
ended, including consecutive calls against winger Matt Cooke,
clearing the way for the Wings and their league-leading power play
to outshoot them 17-3.
"Really bad intensity from our side and then we took penalties
and we know we can t beat them if we do that," Naslund said.
After Datsyuk s goal, Anson Carter and Naslund scored power-play
goals a minute apart early in the second to briefly rally the
Canucks, but Williams added his second of the game on a 2-on-1 with
20.4 seconds left in the period.
Cooke got that back with 1.8 seconds left, but the Canucks gave
up another breakaway goal -- this time to Shanahan -- on the first
shift of the third period.
"If you can get into a team's head that they can't beat us and
are going to have to play their best hockey to even be close,
that's going to pay dividends in a playoff series," Williams said.
Johan Franzen rounded out the scoring with a long shot that
ended Auld's night 3:42 into the third. Auld stopped just 20 of 27
shots before being replaced by Mika Noronen, but on a night when
his team surrendered three breakaways, a 3-on-1, and a 2-on-1, it
was hard to blame the goalie.
"I'm confident we'll make it," Naslund said of the Canucks'
playoff hopes, noting they likely hinge on three straight against
Edmonton this week. "It doesn't look like it right now but we'll
find a way."
Vancouver is one of six teams separated by four points in
the race for the final four playoff spots in the Western
Conference, and 11 of the Canucks' final 13 games are against those
teams, including three straight against Edmonton starting Tuesday
night. ... The Red Wings improved to 9-2-1 in the second half of
back-to-back games this season. ... The Canucks are 1-5-1 in the
last seven home games after starting the season 19-3-3 at GM Place.
... Detroit RW Mikael Samuelsson missed his eighth game with a
wrist injury, but has resumed shooting drills and could play when
the Red Wings face Nashville on Tuesday night.