EDMONTON, Canada — Mark Messier took command Wednesday night as the Edmonton Oilers advanced to their fourth appearance in the Stanley Cup finals in five years.
Messier scored two goals, including the game-winner with 15:12 left, as the Oilers rallied from a 3-1 deficit for a 6-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings to win the best-of-seven Campbell Conference finals, 4-1.
Edmonton, seeking its third Stanley Cup championship in four years, will play either Philadelphia or Montreal for the title. Philadelphia leads Montreal, 3-2, in the Wales Conference finals.
Asked to assess the key to the series-clinching victory, Edmonton Coach Glen Sather said: "I think that probably Messier sums it up. He's got that unbeatable spirit. When he gets that look in his eyes, it spills over to everyone else. I played against the Rocket (former Montreal star Maurice Richard) and he had that look. He (Messier) decided that was enough, and away he went."
Messier tied the game with 1:37 left in the second period, slamming Glenn Anderson's perfect centering pass behind Detroit goaltender Greg Stefan. Then he scored the winning goal by kicking Anderson's pass onto his stick, working free of Shawn Burr and putting the puck past Stefan for his 10th playoff goal this year.
The Oilers won the series even though Wayne Gretzky was held to two assists in the five games.
"There's just too much Messier as far as I'm concerned," Detroit Coach Jacques Demers said. "Mark Messier is phenomenal. We shut down Gretzky as much as we could, but Messier was there."
Despite the loss, Demers was upbeat. The Wings had only 17 victories and 40 points in 1985-86 but had 34 regular-season wins for 78 points this season.
"Every night we showed up to play and gave a maximum effort," he said. "The Oilers just didn't want to lose tonight. They are going to be tough in the finals."
Kent Nilsson added a pair of empty-net goals in the final 49 seconds to clinch the victory.
Detroit's Gerard Gallant and Edmonton's Paul Coffey exchanged early power-play goals before Brent Ashton put the Red Wings ahead, 2-1, at 9:04 of the opening period.
Steve Yzerman made it 3-1, beating Edmonton goaltender Grant Fuhr to the short side with a 30-foot slap shot at 2:14 of the second period. But Kevin McClelland brought the Oilers within a goal when his backhand pass deflected off Stefan's stick and into the net at 4:38.
It was the second time in three playoff series that the Oilers had lost the first game and come back to win the next four.