EDMONTON, Canada — Anxious to make up for a lethargic first-game performance, the Edmonton Oilers wanted to get off to a fast start against the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night. Mark Messier made sure they did.
"We thought it was important to go out and try to get the lead," said Messier, whose first goal 52 seconds into the game started the Oilers on their way to a 4-1 victory over Detroit in their Stanley Cup semifinal series.
The Campbell Conference finals return to Detroit for Games 3 and 4 Saturday and Monday nights.
"We were pretty well prepared tonight," said Messier, who also gave the Oilers some breathing room when he scored again late in the game. "It was important to keep some intensity or tempo. It was important for everybody to think they have to take charge."
Messier takes charge more often than not, according to Oiler Coach Glen Sather.
"Mark's a great leader," he said. "He's a great player. I don't think anyone else can shoot in full stride with the wrist shot like him."
Detroit Coach Jacques Demers agreed that his Wings "gave Messier too much room."
"We got caught pinching (bringing defensemen into Edmonton's zone), and it was over with," he said. "Give Messier an inch, he's going to take it. We said before the series that we're as scared of Mark as we are of Wayne Gretzky."
But Demers said he was satisfied leaving the Northlands Coliseum with a split of the first two games.
"The Oilers played a lot better than they did last game," he said. "But we're going home 1-1, we're playing Saturday night at home and it's good to go home to our fans."
Detroit used its dump-and-chase style to perfection in Tuesday night's 3-1 victory, its first over Edmonton after 13 straight losses, but fell behind quickly Thursday night and was never able to properly implement that attack.
This time, the free-wheeling Oilers set the tempo, as Messier scored his 50th career playoff goal in the first minute, surprising goaltender Greg Stefan with a 20-foot wrist shot.
The Oilers made it 2-0 at 17:28 when Jari Kurri scored a short-handed goal, capping a 2-on-1 rush with Gretzky.
The Red Wings got the next goal as Bob Probert nudged in a power-play rebound with 4:33 to play in the second period.
Messier scored his second goal with 1:22 left, and Jari Pouzar added an empty-net goal with 29 seconds remaining.