The best example of what really separates the Detroit Red Wings and the Phoenix Coyotes came in the moments after the home team appeared to get back into the seventh and deciding game of their series.
Vernon Fiddler scored with a shot directly off a faceoff midway through the second period to cut the Phoenix deficit in half, a goal that provided the first sign of life for a Coyotes team that had been outplayed badly to that point. It had the potential to shift the momentum, getting the crowd back into the game and giving everyone in the building a reason to believe that the Coyotes fairy tale season might have another feel good chapter in it.
The Red Wings, though, had other ideas. Teams with their kind of experience don’t get rattled, and Detroit didn’t, roaring back on the next shift and the ones that followed. They kept control of the play with the same kind of relentless pressure they had been producing all night, outshooting Phoenix 10-3 for the rest of the period and picking up two more goals before it was over. Effectively that put the game away.
“It was like a hurricane more than a storm,” Phoenix coach Dave TIppett said. “We had no answer for them.”
Detroit added another pair in the third period to end up with a 6-1 win that was even more lopsided than the score would suggest and sent the Red Wings flying high into a semifinal meeting with Western Conference champion San Jose. And that can’t be a pleasant thought for the Sharks, who have been known to come up small at playoff time and had their hands full with the eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche in their opening round.
Not that the Red Wings had a walk in the park with the upstart Coyotes, at least until the final game of the series. Phoenix made it as far as it did this season with smart, disciplined play and great goaltending from Ilya Byrzgalov, elements that disappeared simultaneously when their season was on the line in this finale.
It might be tempting to blame that on Phoenix’s lack of experience in these kinds of situations, particularly when compared to Detroit’s. No doubt that was a factor because the Coyotes were unsettled from the opening faceoff. But the real difference is that the Red Wings are simply a better team than the Coyotes, deeper, more talented and with the kind of star power the upstarts from the desert do not have.
More important they came with their game faces, while the Coyotes did not. Phoenix got this far by defying odds and refusing to give in, and looked like it might again by escaping an early onslaught. The Red Wings came out flying and in waves for the first 20 minutes, outshooting the home team 17-6, but were continually frustrated by Bryzgalov.
Ultimately though, he wilted wilted under the pressure as Detroit's marquee players took over, their task aided by poor decision making, bad turnovers and too many trips to the penalty box on the Coyotes part. Pavel Datsyuk scored twice within the first four minutes of the second period – one on a power play, the other when he caught the Phoenix defense flat-footed and broke in alone on Bryzgalov – Nicklas Lidstrom added the first of his two after Fiddler scored, and then Brad Stuart twisted the knife by grabbing a loose puck as he came out of the penalty and scoring with five seconds remaining in the middle frame.
Adding insult to injury, Stuart's goal came after Phoenix had 72 seconds with a two-man advantage, but could not find a way to beat Red Wings rookie goalie Jimmy Howard.
“Their top players came out and dictated the pace, they were relentless,” Tippett said. “When their top players play like that, the whole group jumps right in.
“They played an unbelievable game. They just turned it up to another level that we just couldn’t get to. Hats off to them.”