VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - The Detroit Red Wings are trying to make a statement before the playoffs. The Vancouver Canucks are struggling just to get there.
In a battle of teams headed in opposite directions, the Red Wings scored early and often, taking advantage of numerous Vancouver mistakes and penalties to easily beat the Canucks 7-3 on Sunday night.
Despite needing 65 minutes and a shootout to win in Edmonton the night before, Detroit outshot Vancouver 17-3 in the first period and 37-24 overall, racing to a 4-0 lead and a sixth straight win to stay atop the NHL standings.
"It seems every game we're playing against teams battling for that last playoff spot and those are good games for us to get ready for playoff hockey," Jason Williams said after scoring two goals. "We want to get it into their heads that they're not going to beat us in the playoffs."
After losing six of the last seven, the Canucks would be happy just to get there.
With 78 points, Vancouver dropped into a tie with Anaheim for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But the Canucks have played three more games than the Mighty Ducks.
"We're fragile," captain Markus Naslund said. "It seems every mistake we make is in the net."
There were plenty to choose from against Detroit. Williams and Tomas Holmstrom took advantage of turnovers to score 40 seconds apart early in the first period.
First, Mark Mowers stole the puck from defenseman Keith Carney to create a 3-on-1 break that Holmstrom converted with a wrist shot from the slot. Naslund then coughed it up inside his blue line and Steve Yzerman, from his knees, backhanded the loose puck to Williams, who beat Alex Auld between the legs on a breakaway.
"Our approach going in was they were a desperate team and if we could get of to a good start we could get them to press," said Brendan Shanahan, who added his 31st goal on a breakaway 12 seconds into the third period. "It's certainly a lot easier, a lot less taxing to play with the lead."
It got easier when the Canucks started a parade to the penalty box with a too-many-men-on-the-ice call 2 minutes later. Vancouver defenseman Eric Weinrich was whistled for holding on the ensuing Detroit power play and Nicklas Lidstrom converted the two-man advantage with a point shot through Holmstrom s screen at 10:55.
Pavel Datsyuk, who also had two assists, made it 4-0 on a breakaway 1:30 into the second to keep the Red Wings atop the NHL with 99 points, one more than Ottawa.
"One of the reasons we've been so good for so long is the group of players we have are very competitive professionals," Shanahan said. "If we were the kind of team that looked at the standings and said we can take it easy tonight we wouldn't have the kind of success we've had."
The Canucks took three more penalties before the first period ended, including consecutive calls against winger Matt Cooke, clearing the way for the Wings and their league-leading power play to outshoot them 17-3.
"Really bad intensity from our side and then we took penalties and we know we can t beat them if we do that," Naslund said.
After Datsyuk s goal, Anson Carter and Naslund scored power-play goals a minute apart early in the second to briefly rally the Canucks, but Williams added his second of the game on a 2-on-1 with 20.4 seconds left in the period.
Cooke got that back with 1.8 seconds left, but the Canucks gave up another breakaway goal - this time to Shanahan - on the first shift of the third period.
"If you can get into a team's head that they can't beat us and are going to have to play their best hockey to even be close, that's going to pay dividends in a playoff series," Williams said.
Johan Franzen rounded out the scoring with a long shot that ended Auld's night 3:42 into the third. Auld stopped just 20 of 27 shots before being replaced by Mika Noronen, but on a night when his team surrendered three breakaways, a 3-on-1, and a 2-on-1, it was hard to blame the goalie.
"I'm confident we'll make it," Naslund said of the Canucks' playoff hopes, noting they likely hinge on three straight against Edmonton this week. "It doesn't look like it right now but we'll find a way."
Notes: Vancouver is one of six teams separated by four points in the race for the final four playoff spots in the Western Conference, and 11 of the Canucks' final 13 games are against those teams, including three straight against Edmonton starting Tuesday night. ... The Red Wings improved to 9-2-1 in the second half of back-to-back games this season. ... The Canucks are 1-5-1 in the last seven home games after starting the season 19-3-3 at GM Place. ... Detroit RW Mikael Samuelsson missed his eighth game with a wrist injury, but has resumed shooting drills and could play when the Red Wings face Nashville on Tuesday night.