Entering tonight's game, there was a sense that all six games in this Western Conference Quarterfinal were tight, even if the final score didn't show it.
In Game 7, the final score did not reflect how badly the Detroit Red Wings beat down the Phoenix Coyotes.
A pair of goals from Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk led Detroit to a 6-1 win, taking the series 4-3. Detroit gets to advance to the Western Conference Semifinal against the San Jose Sharks.
Make no mistake: the sole reason the final score was that close was because of the goaltending of Ilya Bryzgalov, who faced 50 shots and made a series of sparking saves in the first 30 minutes that would've made it a much bigger blowout.
Even the other two goal scorers for the Red Wings were players who needed goals: Brad Stuart, whose turnover on a Game Six Detroit power play turned into a short-handed goal, came out of the penalty box to get a breakaway goal; and Todd Bertuzzi, who has struggled offensively throughout this series. Henrik Zetterberg also earned three assists on the night.
Jimmy Howard was superb again, making 32 saves, only letting a Vernon Fiddler faceoff win get past him (and that was far more the fault of Datsyuk, who lost the draw, than anything Howard could've possibly done). It is hard to realize that he is a rookie.
The Detroit power play was just as impressive, going 3-for-6 with an astounding 16 shots. And the penalty kill was perfect on five attempts, including a 1:12 stretch of five-on-three.
After a scoreless first period, the second period started when Martin Hanzal went to the penalty box for slashing. On the ensuing power play, Lidstrom skated around the back of the net and found an open Datsyuk about 20 feet in front of the crease. His slap shot would beat Bryzgalov for his fourth of the season.
Just 1:41 later, Datsyuk would strike again. This time, it was a great setup as Brian Rafalski passed to Henrik Zetterberg to Datsyuk on a breakaway. He would go top shelf to make it 2-0.
But Phoenix would take advantage of a huge mental error. Fiddler was facing Datsyuk on a faceoff to the right of Howard. Datsyuk over swung on the draw, and Fiddler was able to fire directly off the faceoff and past Howard, who was simply stunned by the shot. It was Fiddler's first playoff goal.
But the Red Wings power play would strike again. A fresh Lidstrom came onto the ice on the tail end of a wild power play that saw six Detroit shots. Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula each took shots on Bryzgalov, and the puck rolled out to Lidstrom, who put a blast through the traffic and into the back of the net for his second goal of the playoffs.
Then, as the period was drawing to a close after Detroit killed off a five-on-three, Stuart came out of the box and skated quickly cross-ice to the far side of the rink to grab a puck that went just past the outstretched arms of Mathieu Schneider in the neutral zone. In alone, he went high on Bryzaglov to net his second of the playoffs with just five seconds remaining in the period.
In the third period, the Red Wings would keep pouring it on. Filppula skated in and fired a shot that Bryzgalov handled, but Rabim Vrbada seemed to be ambivalent with Bertuzzi. He would quickly make them pay with his first playoff goal this year.
Finally, with Fiddler serving four minutes for a pair of minors, Lidstrom struck again, this time with shot over Bryzgalov's right shoulder off the pass from Rafalski. Johan Franzen also picked up an assist.
While the NHL has not announced the schedule for the Western Conference Semifinals, it is widely assumed that Games One and Two will take place on Thursday and Sunday due to concerts scheduled at the Sharks home rink on Friday and Saturday.
Player of the Game: Pavel Datsyuk. His two goals early set the tone, with the second one being positively Datsyukian.