Penalty kill fails as Vancouver takes 2-1 series lead

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2003

ST. PAUL &045; The Minnesota Wild got beaten with their own game.

In a tightly called game, the Vancouver Canucks played passive hockey, focusing on defense and taking advantage of opportunities when they arose. The strategy worked for them, as they edged the Wild 3-2 Tuesday night, taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinal series.

&uot;They were passive and played very well defensively,&uot; Wild Head Coach Jacques Lemaire said. &uot;That’s our game. We play like that, and Vancouver, when they are at their best, that’s how they play.&uot;

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When the game’s first puck was dropped, so were the gloves of Canuck forward Brad May and Wild forward Matt Johnson. The two went at each other, picking right up where the teams had left off in a rough game two. The officials, weary of the fighting, called 17 penalties in the game.

&uot;It was probably the tightest game we’ve seen called in the postseason,&uot; Wild defenseman Willie Mitchell said. &uot;They called a lot of penalties, but they called them both ways.&uot;

The result was nearly 20 minutes of power play hockey in a 60-minute game. Each goal was scored with a man advantage.

The Wild, who were the fourth-strongest penalty killing team during the regular season, couldn’t contain the Canucks when shorthanded.

&uot;First and foremost, we probably could have done a better job of penalty killing,&uot; Mitchell said.

Overall, the tight calling and number of penalty minutes worked in favor of the Canucks’ strategy of playing Wild hockey.

The Wild outshot their opponents &045; something that was almost unheard of in the regular season &045; 18 to 13.

&uot;When we have an advantage in shots, it usually means a bad result for us,&uot; Mitchell said.

He said that the Canucks’ strategy caught the Wild off guard. &uot;They were a lot more patient in the neutral zone,&uot; he said. &uot;They tried to nullify some of our speed up there with our forwards. They didn’t give us a lot of shots on net. It was just a chess match out there.&uot;

The Canucks took the first pawn.

Vancouver’s Brendan Morrison struck at 6:25 into the first period after a Filip Kuba penalty, putting a shot past Wild goaltender Dwayne Roloson. The Wild answered quickly and Kuba redeemed himself, scoring five minutes later.

The Canucks struck again early in the second period, and again the Wild answered. But after scoring a third goal midway through the second period, Vancouver focused on shutting down the Wild offense, and held out to win.

Lemaire said the Wild played a good game, but just came up short.

&uot;We played really well,&uot; he said. &uot;(I) felt it was a game we could have won.&uot;

Lemaire added that good teams need breaks to win, and said the Wild didn’t get those breaks.

The coach also said he thought the team didn’t play their usual game because they were too excited too early.

&uot;The guys got excited,&uot; he said. &uot;They came out with a lot of energy.&uot;

Lemaire said that his team usually plays best and fastest in the third period, building from the first two. But he said the team’s energy hit its peak early in the game.

With three days until Friday’s game four, Lemaire hopes his team can focus on a game plan that can offset Vancouver’s strategy, whichever they choose to bring.

&uot;It’s important that we get a couple of days to regroup and concentrate on things,&uot; Lemaire said.

Lemaire, as usual, did not say whether Roloson or Manny Fernandez would start in goal for that game.