Stay focused, stay positive.
That could be the mantra for the Phoenix Coyotes to carry this playoff season. The Coyotes drew the Detroit Red Wings in one Western Conference quarterfinal round, and the task ahead is formidable.
The Coyotes have little playoff history, while the Wings’ past is decorated with 11 Stanley Cups. Legends like Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Steve Yzerman, Al Arbour and what seems like an endless array of Hall of Famers document the storied history of the Motor City franchise.
This spring, and for the 20th straight year, the Wings qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs. In that span, they have won four Cups and reached the finals two other times. They are also the last team to win consecutive Cups and did so in 1997 and 1998. Since then, they won the Cup in 2002 and 2008.
The Phoenix portion of the franchise has never reached the second round of any playoff series, but the Winnipeg section made it out of the first round twice (1985, 1987).
To their benefit, “history” is not played on the ice, and the Coyotes appear confident and ready.
Beginning their best-of-seven series April 13, Phoenix and Detroit meet for the second consecutive year in the opening round. The Wings took the series last season, four games to three. The Coyotes tied the series with a dramatic 5-2 in game six in the Motor City, but the Wings buried Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and the Coyotes 6-1 in game seven. The Wings then lost to San Jose in five games in the next round.
“We were right there against them last year, and we were good,” Bryzgalov told the Associated Press.
“We had some chances to win the series, and unfortunately, we didn’t do it.”
Bryzgalov, who will be a free agent after the playoffs and rumored to wind up in Philadelphia, rose among the NHL elite. In 68 games during the regular season, he finished with a 36-20-10 mark, seven shutouts and a 2.48 goals against. The 38 wins were down from 42 victories a year ago, but his goals against was down from the 2.57 of a year ago.
In matching up against Bryzgalov, Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard is coming off a productive season (37-17-5, 2.75 GAA) and a new two-year, $4.2 million deal. Howard says he learned from last season’s playoff experiences, and he is ready to jump into the fire.
“I feel calmer,” he told the Associated Press.
“I didn’t know what to expect last year. The intensity definitely picks up, and more guys crash the net.”
Regarding injuries, the teams may be going in opposite directions.
During the final week of the season, defenseman Ed Jovanovski (eye surgery) and forward Martin Hanzal (lower body injury) returned for Phoenix, and both should be ready for the Wings. Jovanovski suffered his eye injury in mid-February, while Hanzal missed 13 games from March 8 to April 8.
Detroit will be without forward Henrik Zetterberg for Game One, and possibly the series. He injured his left knee on a collision with Carolina’s Bryan Allen April 6. Zetterberg won the Conn Symthe as Most Valuable in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs. By the way, the Wings also won the Cup that year.
Plus, Wings’ defenseman Niklas Kronwall missed the last five games of the regular season, but should be on the ice for Game One.
Tradition is one intangible which drives the Wings, and Joe Louis Arena should be rocking. Plus, the Wings confidence is strong.
“There is no doubt in any of our minds that we can do it,” defenseman Brad Stuart told The Detroit Free Press.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re bringing it from game one and bringing it every night. This is when it matters.”
One area which could determine the outcome of games is special teams. The Coyotes’ power play was less than efficient and finished the season clicking at just 16 percent. Phoenix cannot give the Wings power play opportunities and room to operate. Lidstrom plays the point as well as anyone in the league, and Pavel Datsyuk (23+36, 59 points) and Johan Franzen (28+27, 55) are opportunists.
The Wings and Coyotes met four times during the regular season. The Wings won in overtime (2-1) Oct. 16 in the desert, the Coyotes won 4-2 at Joe Louis on Oct. 28, the Wings won 3-2 in overtime Nov. 8 in the Motor City and the Coyotes won in a shootout at home March 5. Both games at Jobing.com Arena sold out, and the Coyotes had four sellouts at home for the season.
Game Two (Saturday, 1 p.m. EDT) is slated for NBC and a national audience in the United States. Games Three and Four are Versus’ second game of a national doubleheader, and these games from Phoenix will start at 10:30 p.m. EDT.
The Coyotes leading scorer from last year’s playoff round is gone. Matthew Lombardi (1+5, 6 against the Wings last season) signed with Nashville after the 2010 playoffs.
Phoenix captain Shane Doan suffered a separate shoulder in Game Three last season, and that ended his season. He finished with one goal, one assist for the three playoff games. During the past regular season, Doan was the Coyotes leading goal scorer with 20 goals (20-40-60) and has seven goals in 35 career Stanley Cup games.
During the regular season, the Coyotes, of all 16 teams in the playoffs, had the most overtime losses, 13. The Flyers were next with 12. The Wings lost 10 games in overtime, so each team could be vulnerable should any game go into overtime. Of all the teams which qualified for the playoffs, the Sabers and Coyotes had the fewest wins during the regular season. Each had 43 victories.
The Wings were involved in the longest game in Stanley Cup history. Mud Bruneteau of the Montreal Maroons scored 16:30 of the sixth overtime to beat Detroit 1-0 on March 24, 1936. The official length of the game was 116:30.