GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Really, what else would you expect of them?
Think about it. In a season of entirely unlikely scenarios, the Phoenix Coyotes came up with what might be the unlikeliest of all to edge the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in the first game of their Western Conference quarterfinal series.
Coming in with the league's 28th-ranked power play and the worst-ranked at home, Phoenix connected on all three man advantages it had and drew first blood against a team that has been almost perfect when short-handed since the Olympic break.
|A sellout crowd watching playoff hockey? That's only the start of the peculiarities Wednesday night in Glendale, Ariz. (US Presswire)|
"All season long, we've been playing pretty tight games and preparing ourselves for that. Really, it's all about hard work, but that's what it takes to have success."
It doesn't hurt to show the kind of resilience Phoenix did in its first playoff game in eight seasons. Then again, that has been the story this season of a team few thought would be in the playoffs, or even in their desert locale for that matter given the turmoil it has gone through since being placed into bankruptcy and under NHL control.
Truth is, the future of the franchise is still in doubt, even after the local city council gave its blessing to Jerry Reinsdorf, the Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner who has the best chance of purchasing the team and keeping it where it is. Reinsdorf still has to work out a deal with the league, but in the meantime, the Coyotes continued to confound their doubters and treated their sellout crowd to an effort that was hardly artistic but certainly more than satisfying in its final outcome.
It just wasn't easy. Not with the Red Wings -- veterans of 19 consecutive Stanley Cup appearances including trips to the past two Finals, and the hottest team in the league coming into the playoffs -- dominating things in the early going. Phoenix didn't help matters by taking four penalties in the opening frame. But the power-play opportunities were only part of the reason Detroit had a 20-7 advantage on the shot clock after the first period and a 30-15 margin after 40 minutes.
The Red Wings were flying from the outset, controlling the puck the way they do when they are playing their best and keeping what seemed to be a jittery Coyotes team back on its heels. The problem for Detroit, though, was that it couldn't find a way to deliver a knockout blow because of the work Ilya Bryzgalov was doing in the Coyotes goal.
• Recap: Coyotes 3, Red Wings 2
Not that it should surprise anyone. Bryzgalov's outstanding play has been the key to Phoenix's success this season, and to many he is the best chance his team has to score what would be considered an upset against a team that finished seeded below it. Bryzgalov was particularly sharp in the first few minutes while his team struggled to find its footing, but then gave reason to believe that his luck, and maybe the team's, was running out when Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom opened the scoring.
Holmstrom took a Brian Rafalski pass just inside the Coyotes blue line and let go with a long -- and not particularly hard -- unscreened shot that the netminder misplayed.
"Honest mistake -- I just missed the puck," Bryzgalov said. "I see the shot clearly but the puck was going so slow I swing my arm and I was a little too early.
"But one of the things I learned from my past is -- don't let the bad goals or the bad bounces affect you, because it was just 1-0. There were 50 minutes left in the game -- lots of time to play hockey and win the game. That's what was in the minds of every player in this locker room. We continued to work hard."
And to hit hard, too. Phoenix might not have the skill level to keep up with Detroit, but the Coyotes were one of the league's best teams in close games this season, and against a more talented opponent found a way to level the ice surface in large part because its physical play.
The Coyotes outhit the visitors 43-20 by the time it was all over, wearing Detroit down enough to get into the third period tied at 2 and then to hang on once they got the lead.
"Tonight's game was no different than what I expected," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I thought was going to be a good game, well played with lots of tempo. I don't think there were any surprises, but that was a message for all of us.
"If you want to win at this time of year, you have to have a lot of determination."
Or what you would expect from the Coyotes.