2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round Series Preview
Western Conference -
(6) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (3) Detroit Red Wings
One year ago, the Phoenix Coyotes had a dream scenario in front of them, all that an aspiring climber in the NHL world could have possibly asked for.
They couldn’t convert.
Now, though, the desert dwellers get another chance in the latest NHL playoff series to be a rematch of a prior year’s encounter.
Yes, in another previous playoff matchup. Last year both of these teams met in the first round, and while the series unpredictably careened from one side to the other over the first six games, the Coyotes had to love their chances when Game Seven arrived. Yes, road teams won four of the first six games in the 2010 tussle between these teams, but the final showdown occurred at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes had one game in their rink to potentially knock out the two-time defending Western Conference champions. A financially troubled franchise that’s been supported by (exorbitant) expenditures from the Glendale City Council was on the verge of winning a playoff series and gaining a critical revenue boost. Phoenix held a gateway toward greater footing as a franchise, and with Game Seven at home against the Winged Wheel, hopes were high that the newbies in the playoffs could get the job done.
Instead, Detroit turned aside the challenger with a steady and steely performance, taking a 4-3 series win before losing to the San Jose Sharks in the second round. Detroit suffered a cartload of injuries last season, but the NHL’s most consistent franchise over the past decade was able to get out of the first round and affirm its longevity.
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This time, as these teams reunite in the first round of the playoffs, it needs to be said that the Red Wings will hold home ice. It’s true that location didn’t seem to matter last year as the Red Wings went into Phoenix and won that “win or go home” Game Seven. Even though it’s a different season, the storylines will stay the same. The Coyotes, who are not a bunch of star-studded thoroughbreds, while have to cobble together enough scoring production to stay close to the gifted Red Wings, while Detroit – which stumbled down the home stretch of the regular season and fell behind San Jose in the fight for the No. 2 seed in the West - will need to regain focus and work hard enough to fend off an opponent that needs elbow grease – and a lot of mucking and grinding in the corners – to be successful. This might seem like a clichéd oversimplification, but this really is a contrast between one team’s work ethic (Phoenix) and another team’s open-ice skill and puckhandling (Detroit).
The interesting battle here will be between two of the best defensemen in the game. Yes, defensemen don’t go into the corners with each other but whoever fares better in a five-star mano-a-mano matchup will be a huge key in deciding this series. The battle we’re talking about is between Nicklas Lindstrom and Keith Yandle. Lindstrom is one of the best defensemen in the history of the game, and Yandle is a great up and coming blue liner. If Yandle can make his presence felt in all aspects of play and at all areas of the ice (he was Phoenix's second-leading scorer and third among all defensemen), Phoenix will feel exponentially better about its chances. The Coyotes have all the faith in the world in their team, and frankly, they have the better goaltender with Ilya Bryzgalov going up against the less-than-fully-proven Jimmy Howard (Chris Osgood, a former Cup winner, is still emerging from rehab for the Wings), but will that be enough to take down the mighty Red Wings? History suggests otherwise; then again, history was very nearly made in the desert last season. A Detroit team battling its own share of injuries, especially to Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, might not be in shape to handle Phoenix’s untiring intensity 12 months after barely surviving the Coyotes in a previous playoff go-round.
Give the champion’s edge to Detroit, but this series should be viewed as entirely unpredictable in the final analysis.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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