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Wild Bunch in the Magnificent 7

Minnesota defeats Vancouver, 5-1, setting up tonight's showdown to see who faces Ducks.

May 08, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

ST. PAUL, Minn — ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Nice took the night off.

The victim, Vancouver goaltender Dan Cloutier, was flailing, wondering when or if the Canucks were going to be able to get him a life-preserver. The sellout crowd of 19,350 at the Xcel Energy Center tossed him a verbal stone, chanting, "Sieve! Sieve! Sieve!"

Well, cultural niceties have never mixed well with playoff hockey.

Looking more alone than ever, Cloutier was falling and he couldn't get up, and, of course, the same thing has been happening to the Canucks.

And so, the Minnesota Wild staved off playoff elimination after a shaky first period on Wednesday in the Western Conference semifinals, defeating the Canucks, 5-1. The Wild victory tied this best-of-seven series, 3-3, as goaltender Dwayne Roloson made 30 saves.

It's happening again.

Vancouver once led this playoff series, three games to one. Just the same way the Colorado Avalanche did against the Wild in the opening round.

Minnesota seems to thrive on the playoff tightrope, having won five elimination games during this postseason, becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to do so.

The Canucks have less than 24 hours to repair their injured psyche and their battered goalie. Game 7 is tonight in Vancouver. The winner goes on to play host to the resting Mighty Ducks in the Western Conference finals, starting Saturday.

"You think I'm enjoying myself?" Minnesota Coach Jacques Lemaire said, rhetorically.

"I was nervous before the game about four hours. I started to look at my stocks to get me back on track, so I could relax a little bit." And this was the winning coach.

Did the market ease his angst?

"No," he said, smiling.

Nor did the first period. The Wild -- so strong on the road, yet so nervous at home -- survived a jittery opening 20 minutes. They were out-shot, 8-1, in the first 10 minutes and their fourth shot on goal came in the final minute of the period.

Emerging 0-0 from the first was something of a triumph.

"We've got to be very careful we don't have another first period like that," Minnesota left wing Andrew Brunette said. "If we play a first period like that tomorrow night, it's not going to be pretty."

Then came the collapse. Minnesota took a 2-0 lead on power-play goals by Brunette (fifth of playoffs) at 5:32 and defenseman Lubomir Sekeras at 15:31 in the second. That brought on the "Sieve!" chants, which are apparently a borrowed tradition from University of Minnesota hockey games.

"The penalties got us in trouble," Vancouver Coach Marc Crawford said.

"Again, we almost got through the penalties. We just have to be more determined to kill them off. We have to make sure we learned our lesson more quickly. Put it to work in Game 7."

The Canucks' problems were three-fold -- undisciplined play, goaltending and allowing the damage to come from Minnesota's lesser offensive talents.

Suddenly, the Wild's impact goals were coming from unexpected sources. Three Wild players, Sekeras, Antti Laaksonen and Darby Hendrickson scored their first career playoff goals on Wednesday.

Additionally, Brunette scored twice and Cliff Ronning, who was scratched in Game 4, had three assists, for his second straight multi-point game.

"That's our team in a nutshell," Wild forward Richard Park said. "It's been like that from the start. Hopefully, we can do that throughout the playoffs."

In the other dressing room, the Canucks testified to Cloutier's mental toughness. But he has been shaky in back-to-back outings, having been pulled in Game 5 after allowing six goals.

Now, it's down to one game for the right to play the Ducks. "We're a resilient bunch," Brunette said. "We dug ourselves down to ground level. There's one big scoop left."

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