The Detroit Red Wings put to rest any doubts of their ability to perform in the post-season with a convincing win over the Phoenix Coyotes at Joe Louis Arena last night. It seems that the regular season woes are definitely behind not only the Red Wings players, but also the fans as well. The team has been booed off the ice on more than one occasion for the first time in recent memory due to some very poor performances since the All-Star break. Joe Louis Arena hasn’t been an easy place to play for the Wings lately.
However, last night was different. The crowd was electric with an intensity and energy that hasn’t been seen since the last time the Red Wings were in the Cup finals, not to mention a total of 32 octopus tentacles (televised, anyway) and staccato chants for several individual players. Yes, the Joe was finally “home” again, and the Wings unabashedly fed off of it.
The team got off to a slow start, as is customary for some reason, and let the Coyotes snap up the first goal. However, after a very impressive 5-on-3 penalty kill of over a minute and a half, as well as four other Phoenix power plays, Detroit came roaring back with a goal by Pavel Datsyuk in the second period. That was all Detroit needed to garner enough momentum to carry the rest of the game.
It’s a bit difficult to generate offense when you’re constantly on the penalty kill, and it appeared that the officials were definitely setting a strict tone for the night as well as the entire post-season…no shenanigans! Just about all of the penalties called in the game were for minor stick infractions, and it forced the Red Wings to play in their own zone for much of the first period.
Despite the score, the Coyote’s defense played very well. Oddly enough it was their goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov (widely regarded as the “difference-maker” in this series), who didn’t provide his best effort. Detroit’s first two goals were purely the responsibility of Bryz’s slip-ups. He plain lost the puck on Datsyuk’s goal, and reacted too late on Franzen’s snap shot from just inside the blueline. Bryz faced a total of 36 shots by Detroit, which is about average for the team, despite a first period chock-full of penalty kills. That number could easily have been around 43-45 had the Wings stayed out of the box.
On the other side of the ice, Jimmy Howard hearkened back to his rookie season, providing a total of 26 saves in the game, with 10 in the first period to allow the rest of the team plenty of time to get the motor running. A very impressive game for the young netminder. This is a different season for Howard. He’s been in the playoff trenches before, even against Phoenix, and looks a lot sturdier. I think he feels an added sense of responsibility this time, with Osgood out and Joey MacDonald completely green to NHL playoffs. I think it will help him stand tall.
If folks in the metro-Detroit area felt a gust of wind late last night, it was the collective sigh of the entire Detroit Red Wings team who dug deep last night and finally found their mojo. The series just got a little bit more difficult for Phoenix. A matinee performance this Saturday will probably tell the tale for the rest of the series. Should the Wings win again in convincing fashion, it could give them enough momentum to put the Coyotes away. Should the ‘Yotes win, all bets are off, and Detroit will have to win the hearts of the fans again...all the way from Glendale.