Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Detroit plays roadrunner to Phoenix's Coyotes

Red Wings run roughshod over Phoenix, advance to second round
A roadrunner is a bird that can be described as red, white, fast as hell and native to Michigan.

Actually, none of that is true, except for the bird part. And the white. What is true is just like the coyote from Warner Brothers, Phoenix tried and tried to catch and kill Detroit and was simply unable to match the Red Wings' speed and tenacity.

Pavel Datsyuk scored twice in the second period, Detroit got two goals from defensemen in the same frame and blitzed Phoenix out of the playoffs, 6-1, and won the series in seven games. The Red Wings will play San Jose in the second round.

Unlucky draw for the Coyotes, who might've advanced against any other team. This might be a good time to offer my proposal of reseeding the top four teams in each conference based on points, but giving the division winners a top-four spot. Under this scenario, Phoenix would've been the third seed and Vancouver fourth (Pittsburgh would've been third and Buffalo fourth in the East.) This might penalize winners of weak divisions, but also potentially rewards second-place finishers of tough divisions, and all three division champs still get home-ice advantage in the first round. (Because you know, we've seen how important that is, with three teams being ousted despite having home ice.)

Anyway. This game closely resembled the first two games of the 2008 Final, when the Red Wings thoroughly dominated a young and somewhat inexperienced Pittsburgh team. Even after a scoreless first period, one got the sense that it wouldn't be long before Detroit hit pay dirt after enjoying a 17-6 shots advantage.

Detroit was faster, got to every loose puck and won just about every battle. But it took a broken play on a power play before Datsyuk scored his first of the game early in the second period. Less than two minutes later, Datsyuk netted his second on a breakaway during 4-on-4 play.

That seemed to indicate, "Here we go, time for Detroit to roll," but Vernon Fiddler scored directly off a faceoff to beat Jimmy Howard and make it 2-1.

Unfortunately for the Coyotes, the momentum didn't last long. After a furious sequence around Ilya Bryzgalov's net, Nicklas Lidstrom fired a slapper into the cage for a 3-1 edge on the power play. Detroit converted three of six chances with the extra man.

Phoenix had a golden chance to get back into the game with a lengthy 5-on-3 power play. In fact, it was probably imperative the Coyotes score to have any shot the way they were being out-played. Instead, their weak power play, which was hit-or-miss - and mainly miss - all series, not only came up empty, but led to further disaster.

Lee Stempniak's attempted centering pass went awry - Toronto fans were nodding and laughing at home - and Brad Stuart picked up the puck, just out of the box, and beat Bryzgalov on a breakaway to give the Red Wings a 4-1 edge with five seconds left in the second period. Phoenix failed on all five of its power plays.

That was probably the dagger, but goals by Todd Bertuzzi and a second from Lidstrom made the score even more lopsided. Detroit finished with 50 shots, compared to 33 for Phoenix.

Brian Rafalski and Henrik Zetterberg each recorded three assist and Lidstrom finished with three points.

A friend asked me the other day how Phoenix won so many games with so little offensive talent. First, Bryzgalov was excellent all season. Second, Dave Tippett's system helped him out (Phoenix was 12th best in shots against per game) and the penalty killing was excellent (sixth best.) The Coyotes gave up very few goals (third-fewest per game) and a balanced offense - albeit with few true stars - scratched out enough goals consistently.

That style of play simply didn't work against Detroit, which was probably the best team in the league since the Olympic break. The Red Wings were healthy and getting excellent play from all their stars. Experience was most likely a factor, at least in Game 7, when the Coyotes had little business being on the same ice with the Red Wings.

It didn't help that Shane Doan missed most of the series. Maybe the Coyotes advance if he's in the lineup. He's their leader, a tremendous physical presence and is their best offensive player.

Still, the Coyotes had a hell of a season, probably the surprise of the league. Colorado's in the running, but its fade at the end of the season after such a hot start pushes the Avalanche to second if you ask me. If Phoenix can get the ownership issue straight and afford to bring in some better forwards, it'll remain a dangerous team.

Stat of the night
8 - Game 7 appearances by Lidstrom. In comparison, Keith Yandle, one of Phoenix's best defensemen, was playing in his seventh career playoff game of any kind.

Quote of the night
"He has the quickest clavicle in the league."
Daryl Reaugh, on Howard after the latter made a save with his neck region. I wonder what it would take to get Razor doing every NHL game with Doc Emrick. This needs to happen.

Wednesday prediction
Washington 6, Montreal 2

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