2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round Series Recap
Western Conference First Round, Game 1 - Detroit 4, Phoenix 2 – Detroit leads series, 1-0
Unlike the NBA playoffs, the NHL playoffs encompass a sport in which the first 20 minutes of a game can be just as influential as the last 20 minutes, if not more so. This lesson was painfully learned by the Phoenix Coyotes on a night when they learned they might not dwell in the Southwestern United States much longer.
Yes, a few hours after it was learned that the Coyote franchise’s foothold in suburban Phoenix might be very tenuous, the former Winnipeg Jets – who might return to their Canadian Plains home – then released their grip on the Detroit Red Wings. Dominant in the first period of play at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the Coyotes owned a small lead and had a chance to build a bigger one, but let too many opportunities slip away. In the NBA, a decent but not spectacular first period does not cost games, but it sure did in the NHL for the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
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Here was the setup at the Joe: Phoenix scored a quick goal to take a 1-0 lead and then gained a 5-on-3 advantage for 91 seconds, an unusually long time for such a pronounced manpower disparity. Yet, the underdogs in this series, gifted with an uncommonly promising opportunity, could not put the biscuit in the basket. Detroit committed four penalties in a terrible first period, but coach Mike Babcock’s team skated to the locker room at the first intermission with just a one-goal deficit. The most consistent franchise in hockey over the past two decades had, for all intents and purposes, survived an awful 20 minutes.
Then the Wings made Phoenix pay a steep price for not closing the sale in the early minutes.
Detroit unloaded a three-goal second period to take complete ownership of the proceedings. Pavel Datsyuk deftly tucked in a backhand wrap-around shot at 7:38 of the period to knot the score up at 1-apiece. Johan Franzen then scored at 12:02 to give his team the lead for good. Brian Rafalski banged in a shot from the point at 18:16 to make the period a complete success for the Wings and give the home team a cushion heading into the third. The two teams traded goals for a 4-2 score, but with just under 12 minutes left, the Wings got sloppy and committed a penalty. Phoenix, with momentum after trailing 4-1 earlier in the period, had a big chance to pull within a goal of Detroit. However, the Wings delivered a strong penalty kill, and that was that.
Phoenix has to pounce when the Wings parade to the penalty box. That’s an obvious point, but as Game 2 looms on Saturday, it’s also a necessary one.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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