1 down. 15 to go.
The Detroit Red Wings and Phoenix Coyotes may just end up being true rivals after this series is over, especially if it continues to be nasty. In a penalty-filled game, the Wings got better goaltending and had better special teams
and used them to earn a 4-2 victory and take an early 1-0 lead in the series.
Kyle Turris opened the scoring in the first period. Playing in his first NHL playoff game, Turris took a pass from Ray Whitney, shook loose from Johan Franzen and ripped a shot top corner over Jimmy Howard's glove hand. The Wings took 4 penalties in the first, and the Coyotes enjoyed an extended 5-on-3. However, the Wings were able to kill it without giving up any solid chances, and the Wings escaped the period only down 1-0.
The Wings tied the game midway through the second period. Pavel Datsyuk took a rebound around the back of the net, came out in front and put a wraparound in the net before Ilya Bryzgalov could get his leg to the post. This came just after a Wings' power play expired and several good chances for Detroit. The Wings took their first lead in the game a few minutes after that. Johan Franzen picked up an errant pass from Norris candidate Keith Yandle while the Coyotes were on a change and ripped a snap shot past a screened Bryzgalov. The Wings weren't done there. After an admittedly questionable call on Ed Jovanovski for "hooking" Tomas Holmstrom, the Wings capitalized when Brian Rafalski's slap shot made its way through a sea of players and into the back of the net. The Wings carried the play for most of the second period, and entered the third with a 3-1 lead.
Follow the jump for the highlights, stats and analysis.The Wings came out in the third period obviously remembering what happened the last time the Wings had a 2-goal lead against the Coyotes. The Wings determined not to let history repeat itself, and Jiri Hudler burst down the left wing and blistered a puck in the top corner to give the Wings a 4-1 lead. The Coyotes got back in the game when Martin Hanzal's shot deflected off of Drew Miller's stick and inside the left post. The Coyotes applied pressure late in the third but were unable to score again, and the Wings earned a well-deserved 4-2 victory and an early lead in the series.
Wing fans are used to the ups and downs of a long playoff run. That's why the first period didn't bother many of us despite the Wings having the play taken to them for the first period. Despite a couple of questionable calls on the Wings, they were the ones chasing the Coyotes, so it was no surprise that they were the ones taking the penalties. However, once the second period started, the Wings turned it on and dominated the rest of the way. Personally, I chalk up the first period to a little bit of nerves and of the Coyotes trying to set the tone early in the series.
Shane Doan called Ilya Bryzgalov the "best player" in this series. Well, if the Coyotes are going to win, he's going to have to take that title away from Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk was freaking awesome tonight, registering a game-high 8 shots on goal, many of them of the "are you freaking kidding me" variety. He was easily the best player on the ice for either team, and in the playoffs, you rely on your stars to carry you to victory. I'm just glad Datsyuk has a strong back.
Speaking of stepping up, how about Jimmy Howard? You can't fault him on either goal, and he made two unbelievable stops early in the second period, one on Ray Whitney and one on Martin Hanzal, that kept the score 1-0 and allowed the Wings to stay in the game. Against a team as good defensively as the Coyotes, the Wings will need Howard to be on his game, and outside of a few jitters early, he was great in the Wing net. Personally, I had complete faith that he was not going to allow a soft goal to allow the Coyotes back in the game. He out-dueled Bryzgalov tonight, and if this is a trend that will continue in this series, then Phoenix is in trouble, because goaltending was the one clear edge they held in this matchup.
Look, I can readily admit that the call on Ed Jovanovski was a garbage call. Tomas Holmstrom completely got away with one, and if the shoe were on the other foot, I'd be screaming for a penalty. However, I consider that the Hockey Gods giving the Wings the power play they deserved in the first period when Holmstrom was cross-checked in the back behind the net right in front of the net with no call. So call it even. Oh, and we learned there's a new penalty tonight: intent to high-stick. The refs were brutal for both teams, and if the standard is that blatant cross-checks and elbows to the head are ok but chintzy hooks and holds are not, then I suggest the Wings goon it up and inflict some physical punishment on the Coyotes, since that's what the Coyotes' gameplan seems to be.
Shane Doan may hit a lot, but he's not going to win the games on his own with big hits or elbows to the head. When the only thing he can put in the net is himself, consider me not worried about him. Oh, except for the fact that he's so reckless that he's likely going to injure someone. Consider him my choice for first player to be suspended in the playoffs, because he is going to put a head-shot on someone.
The Wings destroyed Phoenix tonight in the special teams battle. This has to continue if the Wings want to end this series early. For Phoenix, getting 3 shots on 6 power plays (and 1 in 90 seconds of a 2-man advantage) is not good.
Welcome back, Johan Franzen. We've missed you. Now, more of that, please.
Uh, Rotislav Klesla? A piece of advice. When you are playing a team that is not known as a physical group, and you fight one of their players after taking a run at them (only to be put down on your behind), you should know that it will likely pump that team up, and you will then lose the game, especially when your team is not as talented as the one you are playing. But by all means, try again next game.
Stats you need to know on the night: Wings outshot the Coyotes 36-28; Wings were 1-3 on the power play while the Coyotes were 0-6; Coyotes held the edge in faceoffs 36-30; Wings outhit the Coyotes 33-28, and had 18 blocked shots (4 by Ruslan Salei).
It's only the first game, but it was a hell of a start to the series and the playoffs. It wasn't the most complete effort by the Wings, but they were the better team tonight and deserved that win. The teams get a couple of days off before resuming the series on Saturday afternoon. Hopefully this gives Henrik Zetterberg the time he needs to heal and get back in the lineup. For the Phoenix perspective on tonight's game, check out Five For Howling.