Red Wings 3, Hurricanes 2, 3 OT

Sunday, June 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Igor Larionov's first goal made him the oldest player to score in a Stanley Cup finals game. By the time he got his second, he felt a lot older _ and a lot better about this series.

Larionov scored his second goal of the game 14:47 into the third overtime and the weary Detroit Red Wings, the NHL's oldest team, outlasted the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 Saturday night in Game 3 of the best-of-seven series.

The Red Wings, much older than the Hurricanes but seemingly much fresher throughout the long night, take a 2-1 lead into Game 4 on Monday night despite losing Game 1 in overtime.

``We may be old, but I was telling Igor that I'd rather be old and smart than young and dumb,'' said Brett Hull, a classic big-game scorer who got the tying goal late in the third period. ``Youth and enthusiasm can only take you only so far.''

Detroit, which had most of the good scoring chances in overtime, won it on a 3-on-2 break. The 41-year-old Larionov took a pass from Tomas Holmstrom, cut across the slot, causing Carolina forward Bates Battaglia to slip to the ice, and calmly beat goalie Arturs Irbe with a backhander. Irbe made 50 saves before that in the third-longest finals game ever.

Larionov's goal came at 54 minutes, 47 seconds of overtime, or only four seconds shorter than the second longest overtime, Dallas' Cup-clinching victory over Buffalo decided by Hull's disputed goal in 1999. The longest was 55 minutes, 13 seconds between Edmonton and Boston in 1990.

``It's the biggest goal of my career,'' Larionov said. ``Holmstrom made a great play, and I decided to wait a little bit. He (Battaglia) committed to me, and he slid on ice, so I took my time and put it in.''

Larionov also put Detroit into the lead in a tightly played, give-no-ground series that is nothing like the Red Wings' blowout that many predicted. But if it wasn't for Hull, who has specialized in big goals in big playoff games, they might be trailing.

Hull, who had three game-winning goals in the 1999 and 2000 finals for Dallas, lifted his stick to deflect Nicklas Lidstrom's shot past Irbe to tie it with only 1:14 left in the third period, just over nine minutes after Jeff O'Neill put Carolina in the lead.

It was Hull's 99th career playoff goal, and it changed the momentum of the game _ and maybe the series.

``It's a tough loss, you can't hide it,'' Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. ``We're not going to go in waving pompoms and say it's all right.''

Hull could feel the tension on the Red Wings' bench before he scored.

``With a team that's playing as well as they are, if you go down 2-1 you're not out of it, but it changes the way they're feeling about themselves,'' Hull said. ``Then, to score and know still have a chance to win when you were seconds away from losing ... it's their team that's sagging.''

Hull's goal, a deflection of Nicklas Lidstrom's shot from the blue line, set up the second overtime in three games, but this one lasted a lot longer than Game 1, Carolina's 3-2 victory decided by Ron Francis' goal 58 seconds into overtime.

Detroit dominated the first two overtimes by rolling four lines to Carolina's three, thus negating the Hurricanes' youth advantage. Each team had a rare overtime power play in the second extra period, but couldn't convert. Irbe made the save of the game midway through the second overtime, stretching out his stick and glove to barely deflect Steve Yzerman's shot toward a momentarily empty net.

Long before that, with the score tied at 1 for the third straight game and the next goal seemingly destined to decide the winner, O'Neill scored at 7:34 of the third, his seventh of the playoffs and sixth in 10 games.

Ron Francis nudged the puck to O'Neill from the neutral zone and, with a step on Lidstrom, lofted an end-over-end shot that eluded goalie Dominik Hasek to the glove side and inside the far post.

But Hasek, who gave up the Hull goal that decided that three-overtime Game 6 in Buffalo in 1999, didn't give up another goal, finishing with 41 saves _ 22 in overtime, shutting out Carolina for longer than a regulation game.

The Hurricanes are now 7-2 in overtime games in the playoffs.

The home team scored the first goal for the third straight game, with Carolina taking its first lead of the series on Josef Vasicek's goal at 14:49 of the first _ and it nearly lifted the metal roof off the Entertainment and Sports Arena.

Vasicek's goal was the most artistic of a tight-checking, inch-your-way up the ice finals in which open ice has been nearly invisible. Just before he would have collided with Steve Duchesne, Vasicek pushed the puck around the defenseman, regained his balance and, with Sergei Fedorov draped on him, lifted it over Hasek's blocker.

Defenseman Glen Wesley got the second assist on the goal, his first playoff point in 34 games since May 1994.

The sellout crowd of 18,982 was college-like in its enthusiasm and noise level throughout, perhaps because hundreds of spectators spent the afternoon tailgating next door at North Carolina State's football stadium.

The crowd stayed loud for most of the first two periods, only to be quieted by Larionov's tying goal early in the second period for Detroit, after one of Carolina's few defensive mistakes.

As the Hurricanes were trying to get the puck out of their own end, Sean Hill couldn't clear, and Hull _ unusually quiet in the first two games _ swept in and stole the puck off his stick. In the same motion, he directed it to Larionov, who nudged it past Irbe.

Larionov, at 41 years and 187 days the NHL's oldest player, became the oldest to score a goal in a final game, a year after Colorado's Ray Bourque became the first 40-year-old to score in the finals. But it is his second goal that will be most remembered.

Although some series take a few games to develop a pace and a personality of their own, the tone for this one was quickly established in Game 1 and, so far, hasn't changed.

Carolina, one of the biggest finals underdogs ever, can't match Detroit in star power or big scorers, so it has forced the Red Wings to play its game _ patient and physical, with every spot of the ice defended and no player left open for more than a fraction of a second.

``I feel bad for the Hurricanes,'' Hull said. ``All that stuff that was said about them before the series? They're a great team, and they're imbedded in the system their coach wants them to play. You get a team that plays that way and is determined, it's such a tough system to crack. They're a tough, tough opponent.''