The Detroit Red Wings completed their sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes last night in Glendale by a score of 6-3.
A team on the ropes is always known to put their best foot forward, in desperation or otherwise, and the Coyotes did just that. Despite what has come to be a customary early lead by the Red Wings, Phoenix kept the score tied for the majority of the night, and within one goal for 55 minutes. However, it seemed that Ilya Bryzgalov was ultimately the team’s undoing, letting in a fluky goal by Danny Cleary late in the third. That goal blew the game wide open for the Red Wings, who went on the attack once again, and scored with a Todd Bertuzzi wrap-around less than two minutes later. An empty-netter by Patrick Eaves (2 goals on the night) sealed their fate.
To their credit, the ‘Yotes put on an impressive display of sustained offensive pressure, which was not seen to that degree in the previous three games. Phoenix was much stronger through the neutral zone and, again, brought their trademark physical play, outhitting the Wings 37-17. Despite all this, the Wings retained their poise, which was the key to their victory. Throughout the game, mainly in the second and third periods, Phoenix was whistled for around 8 offside infractions, compared with the Wings’ 0. That’s 8 potential scoring chances, and 8 potential goals, or at least another 16-18 shots had they not crossed over early.
One of the more interesting statistics about last night’s show was the total of only 5 minor penalties in the game. In this series, that tended to be the total number for one team the entire game (or one team during one period, in Game 1). While both teams still tallied power play goals on the night, the few man-advantage opportunities kept the special teams mainly out of contention. Detroit’s power play was far superior to Phoenix’s in the regular season, and the Coyotes’ power play has been dangerously successful in this series alone.
The absence of Johan Franzen was a big headline for the TV announcers. While he did participate in a full workout that day, the game-time scratch left what might have been a rather large hole in the second line. However, I don’t think that left Detroit shorted in any way as Mike Modano has been itching to get back onto the ice. Franzen may have far greater numbers than Modano, but Modano’s enthusiasm and energy to finally be on the ice again put him on par with the Mule. Modano even had several quality chances on the night, and worked hard to show Babcock that he’s still got it and he still wants it.
Mark Spizziri in his column a few days ago suspected that Niklas Lidstrom has been playing this series with some kind of minor, undisclosed injury, which would account for his reduced ice time and the target on his back for the Phoenix Wrecking Crew. I’d have to disagree. In the first place, Lidstrom played a total of 21:41 last night, which is more like his usual. If there was some kind of injury, I doubt Mike Babcock would have risked exacerbating it in a Game 4 elimination situation. The other idea is that Phoenix was putting the hurt on the captain in Game 3 to try to get the Wings to respond. Detroit has no known “enforcer” of “goon” to speak of, and the Coyote’s power play had been ridiculously good in Game 2. They saw the opportunity to capitalize on that by trying to get the Wings to take a few more roughing/boarding/cross-checking penalties while trying to stick up for Nick.
I’d have to say the stars of the games were the Coyote’s fans. They were in it the entire night. Even late in the third period, when their team was down by 2 with less than a minute left, they were all on their feet, cheering, yelling, waving towels and pom poms. Nobody left. They gave the Coyotes team a standing ovation at the end and earned a hearty salute from the team. I think most of them appreciated that, given the speculation, this may have been the last game ever at Jobing.com Arena. What an amazing outpouring of support.
Now that it’s all over, the Red Wings have earned about a week’s worth of rest to regroup, retool, and recuperate. Their successful play this series has allowed the team to not rush the return of Henrik Zetterberg, which will be key in the next campaign. It’s very tough to say who they might play in the Western Conference semifinals. Chances are that the Chicago Blackhawks will be eliminated, and after four games, the Los Angeles-San Jose series is completely up in the air. With Anaheim’s convincing win over Nashville, they’ve also shown a strong handle on their series as well, despite it being deadlocked at two apiece.
My quick predictions? Vancouver succeeds over the Blackhawks tonight in Game 5. The Sharks will edge the Kings in a Game 7 brawler, and the Ducks will prevail in Game 6 overtime. That leaves Vancouver to play Anaheim, and the Wings to take on San Jose.
But we shall see….