Desert is Sweep for Wings
The Detroit Red Wings were the subject of much debate regarding their chances in the opening round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Consider that debate mute after the sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Much to the surprise of almost everybody, they looked little like the team that spent the majority of the last couple months fighting the boredom that comes with having a playoff spot essentially locked up by the all star break. The intensity and compete level that had been missing prior to game 82 was present in full force. If there is such a thing as the "playoff gear", consider it fully engaged.
Even though they were playing without Henrik Zetterberg, and had the services of Johan Franzen for only 2 full games, they managed to average over 4 goals scored per game, which tops in the league so far. After Pavel Datsyuk dominated the first 2 games of the series, Detroit's depth took over in the games played in Phoenix, getting key contributions from the 3rd & 4th lines.
Darren Helm lead the way with several big hits on the Coyotes D, forcing them to either cough up the puck or make poor decisions which lead to multiple quality scoring chances and a few big goals. Ed Jovanovski certainly won't forget his encounters with him, which resulted in the bigger Jovanovski coming out on the losing end of physical battles with the smaller, but speedy Helm. Jovo experienced the best of "Nightmare On Helm Street", or the worst depending on your perspective.
The sweep is particularly surprising when you consider that most would have given Phoenix the advantage in goal prior to the start of the series, thinking that Bryzgalov would steal a game or two along the way. This clearly didn't happen, and Jimmy Howard outplayed him. We may not ever know with absolute certainty why, but Bryzgalov didn't appear to fully have his head into the game, and at no time was this more apparent than on Dan Cleary's series clinching goal. While it's speculated that the uncertainty associated with the team's future in Phoenix combined with pending UFA status were the main contributors, I have the feeling his stock has dropped as a result of his uninspired performance.
Unlike last year, the Red Wings will be well rested heading into their 2nd round series, and will hopefully regain the services of both Franzen & Zetterberg. Should they continue to play as a cohesive 5 man unit and exhibit the same level of intensity & urgency as they did against Phoenix, I feel good about their chances going forward. Short of some suspect play on the PK, there wasn't much to complain about in the 1st round.
Interesting side note: Nicklas Lidstrom was 5th in ice time for defencemen on the Red Wings, averaging 19:34 per game against Phoenix. This is almost 4 minutes below his average during the regular season.
Here's looking forward to an extended playoff run...