The Red Wings knocked the Phoenix Coyotes out of the 2011 NHL playoffs (and possibly Arizona) by sweeping them in four straight games in dominating fashion. Remarkably, they did it with leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg missing all four games and playoff juggernaut Johan Franzen missing Game 4.
Stat of the Series
There are several areas of the scorecard to pick from here, but it has to be the Red Wings' depth. An astounding 13 different players scored a goal and 16 netted at least a point; all while holding the Coyotes to 10 goals in the four games. With no Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk dominated the first two games in Detroit and picked up six points in the series. Role players Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves and Darren Helm all picked up goals to help the Red Wings dispatch the Coyotes. Even Ruslan Salei, who only scored two goals all year, got on the board with a goal in Game 3.
Hands-down this award goes to Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Dubbed by captain Shane Doan as the "best player in the series," Bryzgalov laid a huge egg in giving up 17 goals in the series, and he posted an .878 save percentage. Bryzgalov won 36 games and had a sub-2.50 goals against average in the regular season, but the Red Wings have his number. In the 11 playoff games he's played against Detroit the past two seasons, Bryzgalov has given up 41 goals—good for a 3.77 GAA. Ouch.
Bryzgalov's struggles in this series were summed up in a nutshell in the waning moments of Game 4: with the score tied at three, Bryzgalov cheated off his post a bit while Dan Cleary had the puck in the corner, allowing the Red Wings' forward to slip a shot off his pad and in for the game-winning goal. Series over.
As mentioned above, Howard had a quietly strong performance in net. Besides the power-play goal barrage the Coyotes produced in Game 2, Howard was solid and that's usually good enough to pick up a win in Detroit. Had Bryzgalov played half as good as Howard did, this series might still be going.
Howard struggled in the regular season as he saw his goals against average jump nearly half a goal from last season and his save percentage dip dangerously close to the .800s. But he still managed to tie a career high in wins with 37 and looked comfortable in goal when the playoffs started.
Much of that likely has to do with last season's series with the Coyotes, which gave him his first real taste of playoff experience. Though he was able to help the Wings win that series in seven games, he was overwhelmed in the next round by the San Jose Sharks. With a full year under his belt, Howard looked much better in the first round this season, which will hopefully translate into a better second round.
Pavel Datsyuk. Surprised? Didn't think so. Datsyuk was injured for much of the year, but when he was on the ice he was by far the team's most dangerous player. Datsyuk amped his play up even further in the playoffs, twisting and dangling his way through the Coyotes' defense on a regular basis.
After potting a sweet wraparound goal in Game 1, Datsyuk decided that wasn't cool enough and was forced to top himself in Game 2. With a first period goal already in his back pocket, Datsyuk pulled off one of the greatest moves in NHL playoff history with an amazing between-the-legs shot that resulted in a Helm goal.
Datsyuk quieted down once the series shifted west, but his presence wasn't needed. Third and fourth line guys like Miller, Eaves and Salei all scored in Phoenix, as well as top line guys Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary. Even then, Datsyuk felt like he had to get in on the fun, dishing a vintage no look pass back to Tomas Holmstrom for an early first period goal in Game 4.
Other Things That Caught The Eye
You just can't say enough about all the little things that Helm does when he's on the ice for the Red Wings. He scored a goal and had two assists in the series, but he did so much more than just score. He kills penalties and regularly creates scoring opportunities while doing so. His speed causes nightmares for opposing defensemen. When he's not causing problems with his speed, he can get physical to knock people off stride; just ask Ed Jovanovski. Helm's physicality directly led to Eaves' first goal in Game 4, when he knocked Keith Yandle off the puck with a big hit, allowing Eaves the room to pick up his goal.
Speaking of Eaves, he had a really good series and probably earned himself a spot in the lineup when round two starts (sorry, Mike Modano). Eaves' first goal in Game 4 was critical in wiping out a 2-1 Coyotes lead late in the first period, sucking all the momentum out of the crowd. Same goes for Miller, who also picked up a goal in Game 3.
Sometimes The Better Team Just Wins
Shane Doan tried to will his team to victory against the Wings in 2010 with his aggressive play. It nearly worked, but he got injured and his Coyotes' teammates couldn't pick up the slack. In 2011 Doan tried the same tactic and was healthy throughout, but once again, the Red Wings were just the better team. It may be hard for Coyotes fans to swallow, but you don't sweep a team like Phoenix the way Detroit did on pure luck.