Detroit Red Wings v. Phoenix Coyotes: An in-series preview

No one involved with the team would ever admit it, but at times a team looks across the ice at their opponent and knows they will win, not because they are cocky or arrogant but because their opponents are completely overmatched.

It surely happened to the Detroit Red Wings last season, when they faced the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, and swept them without incident.

Few would be surprised if the Red Wings had approached the first round of this year’s playoffs with the same attitude. Looking at Phoenix, they were young, undermanned, and in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Led by an extremely frustrated star, Shane Doan, and having started the season by firing NHL legend Wayne Gretzky as their head coach, the team was influx all season. After bankruptcy, a bailout purchase by the NHL, and a projected loss of $20 million over the season, no one expected to the Coyotes to be anything more than just happy to be here.

But the ‘Yotes, as fans call them, came out firing, skating hard with a relentless forecheck and surprised the Wings in game one, winning 3-2 and taking an early lead in the series. The Wings tied things up in the second game in Phoenix, came home and were shocked again, in a 4-2 win that immediately had Red Wings fans calling for a goalie change.

Rookie goaltender Jimmy Howard, possibly the team’s most valuable player all season, was beaten twice on simple shots and looked shaky. But Howard proved he was made of stronger stuff, and slammed the door in game four, leading the team to a 3-0 shutout.

So now each team has their work cut out for them, in what is basically a best two-out-of-three series at this point. The Wings travel to Phoenix on Friday, then the series heads back to Detroit on Sunday, followed by a return to Phoenix, if necessary, on the April 27 for all the marbles. Here are some keys to the last three games of the series.

  • Shane Doan: Phoenix’s captain and power forward has not played since game two, when he tripped over a sprawled Jimmy Howard and slid hard into the boards. It would appear that Doan injured his shoulder, but injuries in the NHL playoffs are as closely guarded as nuclear launch codes, so all that is known about Doan is he has an “Upper Body Injury.” If he plays again, he will be a huge boost to the offense of the Coyotes, as well as an inspiring presence for the wide eyed youngsters Phoenix depends on.
  • Ilya Bryzgalov: He may be the best player in this series so far. The Phoenix goalie has stood on his head and is frustrating Detroit shooters with acrobatic saves left and right. Bryzgalov has benefited from Phoenix’s backcheck, which has swooped on every big rebound, and Bryzgalov has given up many of them. If the Red Wings expect to take the series, Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi need to use their size and skill to win position for these fat rebounds and send them home.
  • Henrik Zetterberg: Zata, as he is known, has been easily the best forward for the Red Wings in this series, leading the team with seven points. He must continue to be the Wings best skater, create opportunities, and put points on the board, carrying the load for slow starters like Pavel Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski. The playoffs are all about momentum, and Zetterberg has it. He needs to keep the pedal to the floor, keep the team rolling, and let the rest of the team catch up to him.

Prediction: Wings take the next two and advance. Red Wings in six.