2011 NHL Playoff Predictions: Why Detroit Red Wings are Favorites in 1st Round

Michael MrockCorrespondent IApril 13, 2011

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 08: Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings leads his team out to play against the Nashville Predators at the Joe Louis Arena on December 8, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. The Predators defeated the Red Wings 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Detroit is seen as a perennial favorite in the West to represent the conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.  It is a statement that is easily made by the common Wings fan and is hard to debase by the national voices in the media.  The team is celebrating its 20th consecutive appearance in the playoffs this season.  During this run, the Red Wings have captured four Stanley Cups, were in two other Stanley Cup Finals and made it to the Western Conference finals eight times. 

These stats are impressive when considering they have won these four Stanley Cups using two different coaches (Scotty Bowman & Mike Babcock), three different starting goalies (Mike Vernon, Dominic Hasek and Chris Osgood) and two different captains (Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom).  Not to mention that they are the most eastern of the teams in the Western Conference.  In a 20-year span, I don't think any team has had to travel more than them to win in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Red Wings strike fear in the other Western Conference teams.  They have more players on their team who have won a Stanley Cup than anyone else.  The addition of Mike Modano increases that number.  Even though the Wings are an older team, they have the experience on every line to know what it truly takes to win it all. 

However there are some weaknesses the Wings do have that could be problems in these playoffs.  The goaltending situation can be a problem on two fronts.  Jimmy Howard is the starter for the Wings this time around. However the backup goaltender will be seen as an issue. 

Osgood is not what he used to be, as he only played in 11 games because of the injury bug and his age.  Joey MacDonald did play in 15 games but he is the new guy and this is Howard's team now.  Howard will have the pressure on him but he has the most experienced team out there and they are not going to leave him hanging for Babcock to go to MacDonald or Osgood.

The other goaltending issue has to do with how Detroit will measure up to the opposing goaltender in the playoffs—first round is IIya Bryzgalov.  As good as the Wings have been during this two-decade run, the years they didn't win usually had to do with the other team's goalie, who would suddenly become a Hall of Famer when the Wings touched the ice.  True, some of these goaltenders were in the top tier like Patrick Roy and Jean-Sebastien Giguere when they took out the Wings. 

Roy won two Cups with the Avalanche.  The first year Giguere beat the Wings in 2003, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Mighty Ducks coached by Babcock lost to the Devils in seven games in the NHL Finals.  However the usual suspects that knock out the Wings include goalies such as Artus Irbe, who don't do much else with their careers. 

The injury problems are always a weakness for teams as the regular season does take its toll.  However in the 2009 playoffs, the injuries caught up with the Wings in the Finals and they lost in seven games.  This season, like all the recent ones, had significant players out for different durations.  Right now the knee injury to Henrik Zetterberg may leave him out of the first round.  Niklas Kronwall is a game-time decision and his physical play is needed even though Todd Bertuzzi, Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm will scrap it up with anyone. 

The Wings will win this series.

However Ilya Bryzgalov and Shane Doan will make sure Phoenix does not go quietly.  Does Bryzgalov become unstoppable or will the Wings drive him out of the net?  This concern is why most picking the series do have it being in the six-to-seven-game range.  However Doan's leadership and Yzerman-like presence on the ice will be the bigger reason why Phoenix will not be swept.  However, the Red Wings have Nicklas Lidstrom.  He may be older but he has the "C" on his sweater for a reason.

The Wings have the deepest lines in these playoffs, which means everyone will have to contribute to break Bryzgalov and drive him out of the net.  The faceoff is where Detroit will have to excel—Pavel Datsyuk, Kris Draper, Helm and Modano will be the X-factors in breaking Phoenix power plays and owning the offensive zone. 

Mike Babcock's coaching and his hair will keep the Wings on task for these playoffs.  Dave Tippet isn't a bad coach but he doesn't have the track record of taking two different franchises to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Wings in six.