A preview of the Western Conference quarterfinal between the No. 3 Detroit Red Wings and No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes:
Wednesday, April 13: Phoenix at Detroit, 7 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC
Saturday, April 16: Phoenix at Detroit, 1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC
Monday, April 18: Detroit at Phoenix, 10:30 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC
Wednesday, April 20: Detroit at Phoenix, 10:30 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC
x-Friday, April 22: Phoenix at Detroit, 7 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC
x-Sunday, April 24: Detroit at Phoenix, TBD, CBC
x-Wednesday, April 27: Phoenix at Detroit, TBD, CBC
Season series (Tied 2-2)
Oct. 16: Detroit 2, Phoenix 1, OT
Oct. 28: Phoenix 4, Detroit 2
Nov. 8: Detroit 3, Phoenix 2, OT
March 5: Phoenix 5, Detroit 4, SO
Playoff history (Detroit leads 3-0)
1996: Detroit 4-2 Western Conference quarterfinals*
1998: Detroit 4-2 Western Conference quarterfinals
2010: Detroit 4-3 Western Conference quarterfinals
*Phoenix franchise was located in Winnipeg
Detroit: 11 (1936, 1937, 1943, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008)
The good news for Detroit is that Pavel Datsyuk looks like his old dazzling, dancing self with the puck after two injury-induced absences this season. The bad news is that Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings' leading scorer with 80 points, is likely to miss most, if not all of the first round with a knee sprain. Since a five-goal outburst Feb. 2 at Ottawa, Johan Franzen has scored twice in 27 games.
The Coyotes took a scoring by committee approach this season. The Coyotes have nine forwards with at least 10 goals (Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Lauri Korpikoski, Lee Stempniak, Taylor Pyatt, Ray Whitney, Martin Hanzal, Eric Belanger and Kyle Turris) and seven of them tallied at least 15 goals (Doan, Vrbata, Stempniak, Pyatt, Whitney, Korpikoski and Hanzal). Former Wing Whitney reached the 40-assist plateau for the sixth time in his career.
Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom became the first 40-year-old NHL defenseman to collect 60 points, finishing second on the team in scoring with 62 points and positioning himself to win a seventh Norris Trophy. Brad Stuart and Brian Rafalski have been solid when healthy. Niklas Kronwall (shoulder injury) is expected to return for Game 1 of the playoffs. The third pair will be two of Jonathan Ericsson, Ruslan Salei and rookie Jakub Kindl.
Keith Yandle finished second on the team in scoring with 11-48-59 totals. He led the team in assists (48), good for second among NHL defenders, and average ice time per game (24:20). He reached double digits in goals for the second straight season and posted a career-high 10-game point-scoring streak. Veteran Ed Jovanovski just recently returned to action from a fractured orbital bone. Derek Morris led the team with 136 blocked shots.
Jimmy Howard's numbers are nothing to write home about, other than his wins, which he keeps producing. He tied for third in the league with 37 victories. Howard worked in the offseason on improving his rebound control and angle play. Journeyman Joey MacDonald will back him up, as three-time Cup winner Chris Osgood has missed the last 40 games following groin surgery.
Ilya Bryzgalov recorded his 130th victory as a Coyote April 8 at San Jose, surpassing the all-time franchise wins record held by Bob Essensa (129). He tied Nikolai Khabibulin (21) for first on the all-time franchise shutout list with his seventh shutout of the season March 24 against Columbus. He's the first Coyotes goalie to post consecutive 30-win seasons since Khabibulin (1996-99) and owns the top two season win totals in franchise history (42 in 2009-10, 36 in 2010-11).
A Stanley Cup. An Olympic gold medal. A world championship. A world junior crown. Mike Babcock just wins, and he's the first coach in NHL history to guide his team to 50 wins in each of his first four seasons in charge. A demanding taskmaster who seems to get the most from his players, he's guided the Wings to 100-point campaigns in each of his six seasons in charge.
Under trying circumstances with the future of the franchise uncertain, Dave Tippett has guided the Coyotes to the two best records in franchise history the past two seasons. He's the only coach in the history of the club to post back-to-back 40-win campaigns. His disciplined approach is evident in the results. Since Tippett's arrival, Phoenix is 50-14-20 in one-goal games.
Detroit (5th on power play; 17th on penalty kill)
Zetterberg, Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom each scored 10 goals on the power play and Zetterberg had 30 power-play points. There's no one in the league who puts up with more abuse in front of the other team's net that Holmstrom, but he gets the Wings plenty of goals because of it. Darren Helm, perhaps the NHL's fastest skater, produced 2-1-3 totals while shorthanded.
Phoenix (23rd on power play, 26th on penalty kill)
Doan led the Coyotes with 11 power-play goals and Vrbata was next with 10. Hanzal scored seven times on the power play. Whitney and Yandle each doled out a team-high 23 assists with the man advantage and shared the club lead with 26 power-play points. Korpikoski was a threat while shorthanded, with 2-2-4 totals, while Vernon Fiddler produced 1-1-2 numbers on the penalty kill.
Helm has usurped the role of speedy pest that Kris Draper has filled in Detroit since the mid-1990s. Draper is still around, but is mostly a bit part these days, in and out of the lineup. Drew Miller, brother of Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, and Patrick Eaves, son of Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, have thrived in checking roles since arriving in Detroit. Justin Abdelkader is a Detroit rarity, a big forward who likes to bang bodies.
An excellent faceoff man and traditionally a top playoff performer, Belanger has recorded 4-9-13 over his last 15 games with a plus/minus rating of plus-10. His overall season rating of plus-11 is the highest since his rookie year with the Kings in 2000-01 (plus-14). Belanger set a new career-high for assists in a season with 27. Doan led the team with 172 hits.
Jiri Hudler took the money and ran last season, jumping to the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia as a restricted NHL free agent. He returned to Detroit this season, and has not enjoyed a banner year. A tremendous distributor of the puck, Hudler has 30 points in 43 games since Christmas. He can make the power play click with his work on the half boards, and could help fill the void left by Zetterberg's injury.
Last spring, when the Coyotes came up one win short of dispatching the Wings, captain Doan was forced to watch from the sideline due to an injury suffered early in the series. This spring, with a healthy Doan in two, he could make the difference in the outcome. He scores big goals, he's a physical presence and a calming element in the dressing room.
The Coyotes gave the Wings everything they could handle last season, but this spring, the Wings will be ready. A bad omen for Coyotes fans worried about the future of the franchise - in 1996, the Wings beat Winnipeg in the first round of the playoffs, then the Jets packed up and left for Phoenix.
Prediction: Detroit in six