2011 NHL Playoffs: Detroit Red Wings Start March Towards Stanley Cup with Sweep

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IApril 21, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 20:  Niklas Kronwall #55 of the Detroit Red Wings shakes hands with Kyle Turris #91 of the Phoenix Coyotes following Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on April 20, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Red Wings defeated the Coyotes 6-3 to win the series 4-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Well, that was quick.

With 2011 NHL playoff hockey just a week old, the league has already seen the end of a series.

It took the 2011 Detroit Red Wings just seven days to dispatch a team that took the 2010 version of the same squad seven games to eliminate.

While the Red Wings were favored to win at the outset, the Phoenix Coyotes didn't figure to be an easy mark in the first round.

Armed with Norris Trophy-worthy defenseman Keith Yandle on the blue line, 2010 Vezina-nominated goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in net and their long-serving inspirational and scoring leader Shane Doan leading the charge, it seemed the Red Wings would be on the short end of at least one or two games, if not in danger of falling prey to a first-round upset at the hands of a more defensively sound opponent.

Instead, they end the series outscoring the Coyotes 18 to 10; in so doing, may very well have ushered in not only the end of team's season, but the team itself.

The Phoenix Coyotes entered the postseason amidst what many believe to be established fact masquerading as rumor that the team's impending new ownership will make moving the franchise back to Winnipeg (the then Jets moved to Phoenix and became the Coyotes in 1996) its first priority.

Beating a team is one thing, but killing them altogether is quite a feat.

However, so is going from a somewhat mediocre, defensively porous team one week to a hard-charging, dominating juggernaut the next and yet somehow, that's what Detroit managed to do over the past seven days.

I know what you'll say, "Detroit always turns it on when the playoffs start, no big deal."

It's true.

Historically, the Red Wings have been able to "flip the switch" or find an "extra gear" or whatever machine-related analogy indicating a transition to "turbo mode" (hey, there's another one) you could come up with.

But if you analyze that trend closely, you'd find that, for the most part, the teams that did that were essentially transitioning from very good to great come playoff time.

As of two weeks ago, the Red Wings were not very good, in fact, they were just a shade above "alright."

A nagging tendency for defensive breakdowns, shaky goaltending and questionable emotional commitment had come to define Detroit's regular season this year. While one can't assume much of anything in terms of playoff success based on regular season results, the bad habits Detroit had fallen into seemed unlikely to simply disappear once the puck dropped in Game 1 (in the interest of full disclosure, this author thought the Wings were due for an early exit).

Nevertheless, a team that seemed to simply sputter along for much of the season suddenly solidified into a hockey game-winning machine that has only about to warm up.

Established stars such as Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk certainly performed as advertised, however, the continued dominance of "lesser" players such as Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Patrick Eaves provides proof that, from top to bottom, this team is prepared for a long, successful postseason.

Their play certainly proved as much, but so did their attitude.

It was in the team's reaction after winning Game 4 in Phoenix and the tone of the players' responses when interviewed that one could see that this team saw winning this series as little more than a tune up for what they expect to be a successful run to the franchise's 12th Stanley Cup.

Be it 40-year-old phenom defenseman (is there really such a thing?) Nicklas Lidstrom or the still-boyish looking goalie Jimmy Howard, the look in their eyes is the same.

It's not the wide-eyed excitement that should come with the immediately realized goal of winning a series, but the far off, yet focused gaze that is fixed on a much bigger victory a bit further off in the distance.

This team is not prepared to stop winning playoff series.

And let's not forget, Detroit managed to win this series without their leading scorer, Henrik Zetterberg for all four games and without perennial playoff hero Johan Franzen in Game 4.

The Red Wings have 13 different playoff goal-scorers in what will be the only first-round sweep of the playoffs.

When a team can get scoring from that many guys, missing two, even if they are two of your best, is rarely going to be a problem.

With any luck, the Wings' layoff will be long enough for Zetterberg and Franzen to get healthy enough to start Round 2 against what will likely be a tough and aggressive San Jose Sharks, Nashville Predators or Anaheim Ducks squad.

Either of these will surely provide a tougher test than did the Phoenix Coyotes. However, these clubs would do well to take a good, long look into the eyes of their opponent.

They'll notice they're simply going to be staring through them as their gaze is fixed on a prize that lays well beyond them.

Follow Matt on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MAhutter12


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