#5 Detroit Red Wings
(44-24-14, 102 pts)
#4 Phoenix Coyotes
(50-25-7, 107 pts)
Detroit Red Wings
How They Got Here: There was really a point in the season that the Red Wings had to wonder if they were going to make the playoffs a year after playing for the Stanley Cup and two years after winning the whole enchilada, but the team righted the ship with a massive run in the second half of the season to secure a playoff spot and a solid one at that.
Player To Watch: C Pavel Datsyuk missed a good chunk of the playoffs last season with an injury, but he’s back, healthy, and ready to take the Red Wings back to the Stanley Cup. He scored a team-high 27 goals on the year and tied for the lead in points with 20. You also won’t find Datsyuk in the sin bin often, as he only picked up 18 PIMs all season long.
Goalie Outlook: The legendary Chris Osgood has been replaced by G Jimmy Howard. Though stepping into a legend’s shoes is never easy, Howard did well in his first year as the primary goalie in Hockeytown, going 37-25 with a 2.26 GAA.
Key To Victory: Keeping the pressure off of the 26 year old Howard is of paramount importance for the Red Wings. Howard’s lack of experience could be the only thing separating this team from a deep run into the postseason.
How They Got Here: It’s rough when you have the fourth best record in the NHL and you’re only the #4 seed in your conference. The Yotes would’ve been the #2 seed had they been in the East, but now they have to face arguably the toughest challenge in the entire postseason for a solid club.
Player To Watch: It’s hard to think that there was no one on this team that scored more than 55 points for the year, but the man we’re keying in on is leading goal scorer RW Radim Vrbata. He lit the lamp 24 times this year, his second best season in the NHL, and even though he doesn’t have a ton of postseason experience, he does have some great ability and will have to be an offensive sparkplug for Phoenix to survive the relentless Detroit attack.
Goalie Outlook: If you’re looking for the definition of a true warrior, look no further than G Ilya Bryzgalov. The Coyotes net minder faced a whopping 2,117 shots this year, or an average of 30.7 per start. He obviously was up to the task more often than not, going 42-26 on the season.
Key To Victory: It’s probably going to take a Herculean effort from Bryzgalov to hold down the Red Wings. Even though this is a team that picked up 107 points on the year, it just doesn’t feel like it with the roster that is going into the playoffs. Bryzgalov can be the equalizer though, and he’ll need to do even better than his 2.29 GAA to carry the Yotes.
The Final Word: It may be a bit of a square pick, but there’s no reason to think that the Red Wings can’t steal one of these first three games in the desert. Especially considering the fact that Detroit is 24-7-6 in the L/37 meetings overall against the Coyotes, a relatively comfortable series victory for the worse seed seems to be the choice.
Red Wings in 6