Hear those sighs of relief? That’s all of Hockeytown exhaling after the most stressful regular season in over a decade.
Detroit players spent most of the first half of the season on the IR and, subsequently, the team dropped as far down as 11th in the conference. Not exactly familiar territory for the back-to-back Western Conference Champs.
Credit the players that were healthy enough to suit up to at least pick up one point in 15 games that would have otherwise been losses. Without those 15 points, the Wings would be looking to the draft rather than the postseason.
With a fully healthy lineup, the Wings became the hottest team post-Olympics, going 16-3-2 down the stretch. Their top two lines are creating the same kind of chaos for opponents as they have for the past two years. And we all know where those playoff runs ended up.
Don’t get too relaxed, though. The Wings head to the desert on Wednesday, and these are not your father’s Coyotes.
At the onset of the season, nothing was expected of Phoenix, aside from a high draft pick. They quickly proved the experts wrong, going 9-4 to open the season. Everyone saw that start as an aberration, trusting that the rest of the league would figure this team out. Then it would be back to the basement.
That didn’t happen.
As a testament to their resilience and confirmation that this team is for real, the Coyotes had streaks of at least four consecutive wins at four different times this season. Compare that with the Wings ability to string four wins or more together only once this season.
We’ve all heard about the Wings’ hot finish to the season. Not much has been said about the Coyotes finishing 13-4-2, including nine wins in a row. That streak included victories over Colorado, Vancouver, and Chicago.
Phoenix is the epitome of what drives the Wings crazy: A young, fast, hard-checking team willing to win battles along the boards and lean on their red-hot goaltender to clean up any miscues.
While putting the puck in the back of the opposition’s net may not be Phoenix’s forte, they excel at keeping it out of their own. The ‘Yotes are fifth in the league in 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio, and third in goals against per game (2.39).
The season series was split 2-2. There is nothing that says the playoff series won’t be as close. If the Wings hope to make this a short series, they need to get pucks at Bryzgalov and force the Coyotes to play from behind.
I don’t see this being an easy series for the Wings. Detroit’s health and recent play has them as the odds-on favorite. Despite being the higher seed, Phoenix has all the ingredients of a spoiler. Ultimately, the Wings have too much offensive talent, and the Coyotes just don’t have an answer.
Red Wings in seven.