Wild Drop Canucks 4-2, Head to W. Finals

Friday, May 9th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) _ Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire summed up the Western Conference final perfectly. ``Are you kidding?'' Lemaire said when asked if he ever imagined getting this far, this soon. ``Never in a million years.''

But his sixth-seeded Wild set up a surprising series with No. 7 Anaheim on Thursday night, overcoming a two-goal deficit to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 in Game 7.

Not many picked the Wild to even make the playoffs in their third season, let alone the conference championship. But the Wild have made history with a pair of improbable comebacks in their first playoff appearance.

Darby Hendrickson scored the winner with 5:12 left as Minnesota completed a second comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to advance in the playoffs. No other team has done that twice in the same year.

``We were down on the scoreboard but we weren't down in here,'' said Hendrickson, a Minnesota native and former Canucks player. ``We didn't have the word quit in us.''

In the first round, Minnesota stormed back to win the final three games against the Colorado Avalanche. In each series, the Wild won two of the last three _ including Game 7 _ on the road.

``We're going to enjoy this one tonight. No team has ever done it,'' said Wes Walz, who tied it 2-2 at 8:05 of the third period. ``We normally keep our emotions in check but in this case we're going to let them go crazy _ for at least a few hours anyway.''

Vancouver's loss ruined the chance for the first all-Canada Stanley Cup final since Calgary beat Montreal in 1989.

The Ottawa Senators, who had an NHL-best 113 points this season, will play the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference final. Both series begin Saturday.

``We played our best game tonight of this series and they found a way to win,'' Canucks coach Marc Crawford said. ``You have to compliment them for finding a way to win and wish them well as they move forward.''

The Wild are 6-0 when facing elimination. In the final three wins against Vancouver, normally defensive-minded Minnesota outscored the Canucks 16-5.

``I really believe we have a better team than people give us credit for,'' Walz said.

Hendrickson took a drop pass from Richard Park just inside the Vancouver blue line and sent a long, low slap shot under goalie Dan Cloutier's glove.

``I was just trying to get it on net,'' Henrickson said. ``There was a little screen and I just found a corner.''

Pascal Dupuis, who missed the last game with an ankle injury, made it 4-2 with 2:33 left. He connected on a power play after Todd Bertuzzi was sent off for pushing defenseman Andrei Zyuzin into goalie Dwayne Roloson.

``At that time of the game there were a lot worse things going on. It was ridiculous,'' Bertuzzi said of the call.

Mattias Ohlund and Bertuzzi scored 61 seconds apart in the second period to give the Canucks a 2-0 lead. But the Wild, as they have throughout their playoff run, took advantage of a good break to get back in the game.

Marek Malik's clearing attempt hit Sergei Zholtok's stick behind the Vancouver net, and the puck bounced over the net. Dupuis batted it out of the air on the other side for his first goal of the game.

``It was big and I got lucky,'' Dupuis said.

For the third straight game the Canucks had the early edge, outshooting the Wild 12-6 and delivering several big body checks in the first period. But for the third straight game, the Canucks couldn't put an early goal past Roloson.

Ohlund finally scored with a low slap shot from the top of the left circle that beat a screened Roloson at 11:29 of the second. Bertuzzi, who had 46 regular-season goals, scored his only goal of the second round on a breakaway during the next shift.

But Dupuis took advantage of the first break, and Walz tied it on another one in the third.

Antti Laaksonen's centering pass bounced off a skate in the crease, and straight to Walz, who caught Cloutier out of position playing the pass.

``It's easy to point the finger at the goalie,'' said Cloutier, who made 12 saves and finished the series with an 86.1 save percentage. ``You can blame the goalie for some goals, but we all have to be accountable. I have to be better down the stretch and so does everyone else.''

Minnesota received the only two power plays in the game that was played just one day after the Wild beat the Canucks at home in Game 6.

Notes: It was the first time the Canucks lost a series in which they led 3-1. They were 5-0. ... New York Islanders are the only team to win more games than the Wild when facing elimination, winning eight times in 1975.