This was supposed to be the game where the Detroit Red Wings exerted their will against an inexperienced, upstart team. Instead, the Wings walked away humiliated, spanked, and with their tails between their legs.
Let me first note this: If the Red Wings are going to have to score four-plus goals each time they want to win a game this series, they will be golfing before the second round. End of story.
Simply put, it's the defense.
They have been outright embarrassing, from the top on down. Every single one of them.
Yes, even Lidstrom.
Yes, even Rafalski. Especially Rafalski.
He has been a disappointment from start to finish in all three games. If I am Mike Babcock, this is the discussion I am having with him:
"Raffy, come here. Okay... you're not allowed to pinch anymore. You've obviously forgotten how and when to do it properly. Oh... and you're not allowed to play the puck anymore either. I understand the Coyotes wear red and white too, but I don't think it's that hard to tell which players are your teammates. In fact, stand in this corner and don't move. At least by standing still, you won't be outright sabotaging our efforts."
I can count no fewer than two occasions where he decided to pinch on a play and gave up an odd-man rush because of it. I think he has made more turnovers than all the Phoenix defensemen combined .
Rafalski has been an embarrassment.
I'd say that he should be demoted, but who has played like they deserve his spot? They've all played horribly. They've all made poor decisions and lacked urgency and/or energy.
And that has been the difference.
Yes, Howard hasn't been great (I can think of one goal each game that were a direct result of a bad decision on his part or whiffing on a shot), but he's a rookie playing in the NHL playoffs for the first time. I expect him to make mistakes, and the Red Wings should as well. Instead, they're playing like they have Dominik Hasek in his prime behind them.
When you are playing a team as defensive-minded as the Phoenix Coyotes, you can not make these sort of mistakes if you expect to beat them. And you certainly cannot make them as often as the Red Wings defenders have.
Watch how the Coyotes have played defense. I think Aucoin has blocked more shots and passes than the entire Wings defense. They are always moving, always challenging the puck carrier, always forcing their opponents to make decisions quickly. Their sticks are everywhere, denying passes, blocking shots, being a general nuisance.
The Wings let the Coyotes into the offensive zone without challenge. The next time a Wing hits the ice to block a shot, I think it will be the first. They have played passive and without any semblance of courage or desire. I suspect in Game Four, they'll be offering tea and biscuits to anyone who crosses the blue line.
Yes, Lidstrom has been guilty of this too. On the first goal of Game Three, Lidstrom could have ended that scoring chance before it began by simply stepping up and swatting away a free puck.
Instead, he dropped back, let the Coyotes take the zone without any pressure, and 10 seconds later, the puck was in the back of the net.
In Game Two, Lidstrom made probably the most pathetic attempt to break up a 2-on-1 I have ever seen. Maybe I don't exactly know the best way... but I'm fairly certain crouching down like an 80-year-old cripple rejected from the cast of South Park isn't the way to go, either.
But again, how do you make a statement when the rest of the defense has been equally bad?
Kronwall stood there like an idiot with the puck between his skates in Game Two, wondering why the Coyotes were coming his way.
Stuart has been almost as embarrassing to watch as Rafalski.
Lilja has been... well... Lilja. Enough said.
At the end of the day, the defense has to play better, from top to bottom, if they want to have any chance of winning this series.
If they don't, this series will be over as quickly as some Wings fans thought it would be... only with the other team moving on to the second round.