2 straight years these teams have battled in the playoffs. 2 straight years the Wings have ended the Coyotes season.
When put into that context, a 3-2 shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes doesn't seem like that big a deal. The Coyotes have been treading water in the Western Conference for the majority of the season, using fantastic goaltending by Mike Smith and a dedication to their system to stay within reach of a playoff spot.
The Wings? Well, after a very inconsistent start, they have climbed up to be in the thick of a very contentious race for the lead in the best division in the NHL.
However, the Wings haven't been playing their best hockey lately, and after a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the putrid New York Islanders on Tuesday night to cap a 2-2 road trip, the Wings returned home to the friendly confines of Joe Louis Arena, where they had won 13 straight games.
One of the few true offensive talents on the Coyotes got them on the board early in the first period. After stepping around Henrik Zetterberg in the neutral zone, Radim Vrbata ripped a wrist shot past Jimmy Howard, who was screened by Ian White on the play. Valtteri Filppula showed off his Datsyukian moves by stealing the puck from Boyd "Don't Call Me Devereaux" Gordon and blasted a slap shot that deflected off a Coyote stick and over Mike Smith's glove. The Reverse Budd Lynch goal ensured that for the first time in over a week, the Wings would enter the second period not down by at least a goal.
The second period saw a lot of penalties being called, but no goals. Both teams received 2 power plays, although there could have been a hell of a lot more. However, neither team could capitalize on their chances, not surprising given the Coyotes' power play is just terrible. As is customary, the Wings outshot their opponent in the second period.
The teams came out for the third both hungry for the win, and the Coyotes took yet another lead. A loose puck in front of the net was whacked at by Taylor Pyatt, and it was deflected over Howard's glove and in the top of the net, giving the Coyotes another lead. The Wings opened it up and began to really pepper Smith, and they were rewarded midway through the third when Pavel Datsyuk made a beautiful saucer pass to Johan Franzen who converted and knotted the game at 2. The two teams both had some chances throughout the rest of the game, but neither team could get another goal and the teams went to OT, both having earned a valuable point.
In OT, both teams seemed content to not give up a quality scoring chance and played things fairly tight to the vest. After peppering Smith with 39 shots in regulation, the Wings only had 3 in OT, none of which were truly great chances, and we headed to the rummy tournament.
Shootouts are hard to describe. I could sit here and say that Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg scored for the Wings, while Radim Vrbata tallied for the Coyotes, but to do so would be to completely undersell the gorgeous moves that all 3 of them were able to score with. Zetterberg's 4th-round goal proved to be the winner, and the Wings climbed into a very temporary tie for first place in the division (pending the results of the Blues and Blackhawks games).
- First and foremost, a hearty congratulations to Jimmy Howard on win #100. Tonight was yet another solid night for Tiberius, stopping 25 of 27 shots and not giving up any soft goals. It looked like the time off really served him well. Now we make sure that his left knee isn't messed up. (UPDATE: According to the Wings' Twitter feed, he said it was a Charlie Horse but he'll be all right").
- A second congratulations to Mike Babcock on achieving his 400th win. We'd say more but we know he's not really into all that mushy shit.
- Well, it wouldn't be a Red Wing game if they didn't give up the first goal. For the fourth straight game, the Wings gave up a goal in the first period and found themselves behind early. No matter how good the Wings are, continuing to fall behind is a troubling trend that needs to be corrected. That also makes four straight games where the Wings have failed to have a lead at any point during regulation.
- Despite playing well in the first period, the Wings were one-and-done far too often. Too many shots on Mike Smith were from far out and easy saves. That continued through the second period, and Babock mentioned in the second intermission that the Wings needed to shoot and go to the net more. Notice how the Wings scored their second goal? Johan Franzen going to the net.
- Welcome back to the Sak Attack (I love rhyming). Jan Mursak made his long-awaited debut, and the kid didn't look half bad considering he missed over 3 months of action. He was aggressive on the forecheck, had a couple of steals and a good scoring chance. His official stats show 3 shots, 2 takeaways and a blocked shot. It's games like this that make us all excited to see what he can do with regular ice time.
- Kudos to Mike Smith, who was the only reason the Wings didn't run away with the game in the first period. 40 saves over the first 65 minutes only to be beaten by two ridiculous shootout moves is nothing to hang your head about.
- Jeebus Christmas were the referees ever inconsistent tonight. I have no problems with refs who let them play, nor do I mind if they call everything. There were plenty of examples for either team to be upset with the refereeing, as both teams got away with blatant penalties while some of the chintziest shot was called.
- There oughta be a rule that makes it illegal for Pavel Datsyuk to participate in the shootout. It's just not fair to goalies. Related: where the hell has that been, Henrik Zetterberg?
Coming off an absolutely abysmal performance against one of the truly bad teams in the NHL on Tuesday night, I think we all expected the Wings to take out their frustrations on a Coyotes team that is competitive but not that talented. While the scoreboard may not reflect it, the Wings really did play a good game tonight, and came away with 2 points that were richly deserved. As of this writing, the Blues just lost to the Canucks in OT (yay!) to move one point ahead of the Wings, while the Blackhawks were beating up on the Wild pretty good. It looks as if Saturday afternoon will once again be a chance for the Wings to take the lead in the Central, assuming they can beat Chicago in regulation.