Déjà vu, or welcome revenge?
While the outcomes of just about every Stanley Cup playoff series were decided in nail-biting, nervous-wreck fashion on Sunday, a rematch of last year's best-of-seven first round series opposing the Detroit Red Wings and Phoenix Coyotes seemed imminent--and somewhat logical, in all the madness--for this year's Western Conference quarterfinals.
The Coyotes got 4 out of a possible 8 points in their April contests after having gone 9-4-1-0 in March. The Red Wings had also split their contests this month before the grand, nationally televised finale against the Chicago Blackhawks that saw them hold on for a 4-3 final. With all the kerfuffle boiling over during the past two days, the fourth spot (and home advantage) the Coyotes had literally mere hours prior to their eventual sixth-place finish was awarded to the Anaheim Ducks, who were clinging to postseason life as recently as three days ago. But such is the West. Now we have a 3rd seed and a 6th seed set to battle in Hockeytown, starting with Wednesday night.
Wednesday, April 13th: at Detroit, 7:00 p.m. EST
Saturday, April 16th: at Detroit, 1:00 p.m. EST
Monday, April 18th: at Phoenix, 10:30 p.m. EST
Wednesday, April 20th: at Phoenix, 10:30 p.m. EST
Friday, April 22nd: at Detroit, 7:00 p.m. EST *
Sunday, April 24th: at Phoenix, TBD *
Wednesday, April 27th: at Detroit, TBD *
The games will be broadcast on Versus and CBC. Saturday's game will also be featured on NBC.
Henrik Zetterberg is not expected to be back for the start of the series, having been out of the lineup with a lower body injury since last Wednesday night, in a game the Red Wings lost to the Carolina Hurricanes by a mark of 3-0. Detroit suffers from other key ailments as well, from Chris Osgood's long-term sports hernia to blueliner Niklas Kronwall's upper-body injury.
They've also had problems winning at home; they've only won three times at the Joe Louis Arena dating back to mid-March. Meanwhile, Phoenix has eerily-similar records at home and away, but with a goal-differential of only +5 whereas the Wings are +20. Some of their best scorers have had trouble finding the net recently, however, as Johan Franzen's much-talked about 5-goal performance against the Senators in early February has been followed with only two goals since that date. Then again, there is also Nick Lidstrom.
The Norris talkers are sure to have a field day considering a series opposing two front-runners in Lidstrom and Keith Yandle. However, Yandle, who once led the league's defensemen in points and also topped all other Coyotes by a significant margin, has cooled off considerably with his offensive numbers since All-Star weekend, and Shane Doan overtook him for the team points lead by one with 60. However, he upped his defensive game and got himself to a +12 from the below-zero figures he was sporting earlier in the season. He had 5 points in the seven-game series last year and is poised to recreate himself as a threat.
What more to say about Phoenix netminder Ilya Bryzgalov that hasn't already been said? He set the all-time franchise record for wins as a member of the desert dogs in bagging his 130th win on Friday night over San Jose. The Sharks, whose ire the Coyotes were fortunate enough not to have drawn in the first round (something they can ironically thank the Wings for) are still seeing red over this:
Meanwhile, Doan was the only member of the pack to score 20 goals this season. But one has to look as far down as the twelfth player on the stat-sheet to find someone in single-digit goal figures, a feat that not many teams can say they're able to duplicate. Everyone under 20 points is a defenseman, rookie or...Paul Bissonnette. In other words, this team has depth that they're ready to use in a big way.
No better time than the postseason.
News and Notes (and much-delayed stuff)
- The Coyotes' team awards were announced on Friday, with Bryzgalov taking home team MVP honours and the Ganem Jewelers Three-Star Award. Yandle, who still led the team in points at the time, was recognized for this acheivement with the Toyota Leading Scorer Award. Lauri Korpikoski, who scored 18 goals and 20 assists this season, received the Jukka Nieminen Memorial Trophy as Phoenix's hardest working player and Vern Fiddler was awarded the Gila River Casinos Man of the Year Award for his off-ice work in the community.
- Phoenix also has a couple of new(-ish) signings to report: Hobey Baker Award-winning Andy Miele of Miami University (Ohio) and 2010 NHL Entry Draft first-round choice Mark Visentin. Miele recorded 71 points in just 39 games in the NCAA, also capturing CCHA Player of the Year, First-Team All-CCHA and CCHA Tournament MVP honours after leading the RedHawks to their first-ever Mason Cup. Visentin represented Canada between the pipes at this year's World Junior Championships in Buffalo and was solid this season for the OHL's Niagara IceDogs, going 30-9-2-4 and ranking second in the league in GAA (2.52), save percentage (.917) and shutouts (4).