Turn out the lights, the party’s over.
The season ended for the Phoenix Coyotes in a way which showed little success for a franchise-best second straight 40-win season. With a future uncertain and players scrambling to secure their futures, the Coyotes now turn to factors out of their collective control for stability.
In a spirited attempt to stay alive, the Coyotes showed grit and desire, but could not withstand the Detroit response. Losing leads of 2-1 and 3-2, the Coyotes eventually dropped 6-3 decision to Wings, lost the Western Conference quarter-final round in four straight, and became the first team in 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs to be eliminated.
“Embarrassing,” was the way captain Shane Doan placed events in perspective. “No one wants to lose four straight, and we wanted for things to happen. They got to more pucks than we did, and took advantage of our mistakes.”
Still, their accomplishment to withstand the notion of a possible demise in the desert and the Wings’ superior talent, was noteworthy. Now with the end of the season, Phoenix's future remains as uncertain as when previous owner Jerry Moyes moved the franchise into bankruptcy nearly two years ago.
“The situation we faced as players was so unique, and I was never a part of anything like this,” said defenseman Adrian Aucoin. “Yeah, we could have played better, and this is not the way the season was supposed to end.”
One factor which doomed Phoenix in the series was their lack of physical play in front of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Time and time again, the crease was clogged by the presence of Tomas Holmstrom and Kris Draper. The Coyotes defense made little effort to clear the area and Bryzgalov could have helped himself by taking shots and whacking Wings in front.
Despite leading the Coyotes into the post-season, Bryzgalov proved mortal in the playoffs. He allowed 13 goals in the four games, and took credit for uneven and sloppy play.
“My mistakes,” was the way he characterized his effort. “The team deserved better. Given (Detroit) credit, they executed well.”
Bryzgalov’s lack of concentration on the Wings game-winner was systematic of his play throughout the series.
Forward Dan Cleary had the puck to the right of Bryzgalov near the goal line. His centering into the crease deflected off Bryzgalov into the net with just seven minutes left in the third period. That broke a 3-3 tie and provided the Wings with the advantage to advance to the Western Conference semi-final round.
“They are a strong team and just beat us in the series,” said defenseman Keith Yandle. “I think they’ll do some damage in the playoffs, and could go somewhere.”
In the end, players were able to deflect the distraction of an uncertain future, rally around a hard core band of loyal fans and reach post-season. All of the off-ice discussions, debate, accusations and charges need to be put to rest, coach Dave Tippett pointed out..
“In order for us to be successful, we need a stable ownership,” said Tippett. “The NHL wants that, the players want it, the fans want it. It’s nice to make the playoffs two years in a row, and now we need to push it.”
The Coyotes were swept in a four-game series for the first time in Phoenix. They were swept in four straight in 1987 by the Oilers while in Winnipeg. They lost three straight, when the opening round was best of five, three times as the Jets.
The Wings swept an opponent for the first time since they eliminated Columbus in four straight in 2009. In that playoff season, the Wings opened the conference semi-final round against Anaheim with two straight wins (for six straight) and then took out the Ducks in seven games. They eventually lost to the Penguins in the finals.
Doan recorded his 10th career playoff goal for Phoenix, and that places him fifth in franchise history behind Keith Tkachuk (19), Dale Hawerchuk (16), Paul MacLean and Dale Hawerchuk, each with 16, and Thomas Steen (12).
NOTE: Quotes in this story were obtained by the reporter through post-game player interviews and coaches’ post-game news conferences.