VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks lamented a "sloppy" game devoid of scoring chances and played mostly in the neutral zone. That was music to the ears of a Detroit Red Wings team that had lost four straight and been outshot in eight of its past 10 games.
Fittingly, the winning goal wasn't pretty either.
Tomas Tatar scored his first goal of the season on a long wrist shot with 62 seconds left in the second period, and the Red Wings clamped down in the third to beat the Canucks 2-1 on Wednesday night.
"When we're careless with the puck and careless with our structure we don't look very good," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "We're a team that needs to play a certain way to be successful."
They played that way against the Canucks, limiting the time spent in their own end while holding Vancouver to a season-low 20 shots.
"I've got to give the guys a lot of credit tonight," said goalie Jimmy Howard, who stopped 19 shots, including all seven he faced in the third period. "They did a great job in front of me."
The same couldn't be said of the Canucks in front of Luongo, at least not on Tatar's go-ahead goal late in the second period.
"I just tried to shoot it on net and the puck somehow ended up in," said Tatar, who played in his fifth game of the season. "This is a big relief. Our line played pretty well."
After Daniel Alfredsson tied it midway through the period, Tatar put Detroit ahead with a shot off the rush from well above the top of the right circle that caught defenseman Christopher Tanev setting an inadvertent screen. Tanev lifted his foot at the last instant to get out of the way, but Luongo didn't see the puck until it was between his legs.
"Obviously I didn't see it," Luongo said. "I think our defenseman was trying to cut across to get the guy on the other side and I didn't see it until the last second, but I have to find a way to find those. It's a pretty [lousy] way to lose a game on a goal like that."
Daniel Sedin had Vancouver's lone goals and Luongo finished with 25 saves, including a couple of great point-blanks stops in the final five minutes for the Canucks, who had their four-game winning streak snapped.
"Don't blame Lui," said coach John Tortorella, deferring on Tanev's decision until he reviewed the play. "He gave us an opportunity to get back in that game in the third. He made some really good saves."
Some of his best came against Datsyuk, who was reunited with Henrik Zetterberg on a top line with Todd Bertuzzi. But it was the Canucks' No. 1 unit, with Ryan Kesler moved up with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, that opened the scoring late in the first period.
After making a drop pass to twin brother Henrik off the rush, Daniel faded into the right corner and took the return feed unchecked before firing a sharp-angled shot into an empty net after Howard got stranded atop his crease looking for a shot from Henrik.
It was Daniel's fourth goal and seventh point during a five-game point streak; Henrik has three goals and 12 points during a 10-game point streak of his own. The Sedins almost added to those totals midway through the second period, but Howard slid hard from left to right through his crease to deny Daniel on a backdoor one-timer after a perfect cross-ice backhand pass from Henrik.
Less than two minutes later, Alfredsson tied it with his third goal since joining the Red Wings as a free agent in the summer. The 40-year-old went to the top of the crease and fired a loose puck that hit the post, deflected off the back of Luongo's leg and slid over the goal line at 11:37.
"We were playing pretty good but had nothing to show for it," Alfredsson said. "We get the first one and then a fluke play where their defenseman ended up being a screen and we get lucky. That's a huge goal for us, to go into the third with the lead and I thought we handled that really well."
The Sedins were back with Alexandre Burrows for the third, and set him up for a shot in the slot that he whiffed on, but were otherwise quiet.
"It was a sloppy game from both teams, a lot of play in the neutral zone and turnovers and not a whole lot of chances," Henrik said.
The Sedin twins weren't the only ones to struggle.
"We just looked lethargic," Tortorella said. "For some reason we lacked some energy tonight. I thought throughout the game both teams, it was just kind of one of those games. I just don't think we generated enough without our energy."
The Canucks' power play, which has four goals all season and came in ranked 28th, couldn't take advantage of an early third-period opportunity, managing just two shots. The Canucks ended the night 0-for-3 with the extra man.
"It could have helped us tonight," Tortorella said of the struggling power play. "It wasn't good tonight. The other nights it's been good. Tonight it wasn't good."
Luongo made up for the second goal with a sprawled right pad save to take an apparent goal away from Justin Abdelkader after a 3-on-1 backdoor pass from Tatar with five minutes left. He also stuffed Bertuzzi from in tight 90 seconds later. But the Canucks failed to take advantage, with Kesler whistling a shot wide in the final seconds.
"I hit that shot nine out of 10 times and I just missed it," Kesler said. "It's frustrating."
Frustrating and "sloppy" were sentiments echoed by several Canucks -- and that was music to the Red Wings ears.
"We had the puck a lot more because we executed out of our defensive zone fast, we didn't waste a lot of time in there and we got through neutral zone and in the end had way more puck possession because of it and that's the right way to play," Babcock said. "Tonight was a good step for our team. Now we've got to match it."
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