This season’s first-round playoff match-up between the Detroit Red Wings and the Phoenix Coyotes is a spitting image of the 2010 first round, when the two teams met in a hard fought battle that saw Detroit take the seven-game series 4-3.
This year the Red Wings finished third in the Western Conference with 104 points and for their efforts will play once again host the Coyotes, who finished sixth with 99.
The Coyotes have failed to win a playoff series since moving from Winnipeg in 1996, and look to reverse the 14-year curse behind the veteran presence of defenceman Ed Jovanovski, winger Ray Whitney, and captain Shane Doan.
The Coyotes may be the only team in the league without a superstar to lean on, as Doan led the team with 20 goals, but they rely on scoring from various sources. One person who they will rely heavily on to provide offence from the blue-line will be Keith Yandle, who finished the season with 11 goals and an impressive 48 assists, only one behind Doan for overall points. The Wings will also have to look out for the offensive threat that Whitney brings, as he scored 17 goals and added 40 assists.
The one person that probably poses the biggest threat to a highly offensive Red Wing team is goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov. He won many contests for the Coyotes in tight games throughout the season, posting a record of 32 wins, 20 losses with a 2.48 GAA, and posting a career-high tying .921 save percentage.
Coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals before last season’s early exit, the Red Wings are entering their 20th straight playoff berth and are looking to get back on top of the West by doing again what they did to Phoenix last year.
The Wings, atop the Central Division, are hoping to gain the supremacy they have been synonymous with in the West behind the veteran leadership of Niklas Lidstrom, who will be turning 41 at the end of April. Nine of the top ten scorers for the Wings are over the age of 30, which gives them a huge advantage when it comes to experience as well as the knowledge it takes to make it deep into the NHL playoffs.
Although Rafalski and Lidstrom contribute most of the offence from the blue line, Nicklas Kronwall who is making his first return from injury will be relied on to provide some physical presence.
As far as goal-scoring goes, there is an abundance of talent found through the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury but expected back sometime during the series, and Johan Franzen who has been labeled “The Mule” due to his past playoff performances. Don’t count out notorious play-off performers such as the always-dangerous Dan Cleary.
If the Wings want to take this series in a convincing fashion they will need a career performance from goaltender Jimmy Howard, who posted a career high-tying 37 wins, posting a GAA of 2.79 with a save percentage of .924
Prediction: Wings in 6