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Coyotes come up short of much-needed series win vs. powerhouse Detroit

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few hours before the Coyotes and Red Wings took the ice for the final game of their Western Conference quarterfinal, future Hall-of-Famer Jeremy Roenick had this take on what separates Game 7s from the rest of a playoff series.

"Game 7 is where the superstars step up," he said.

'Their top players came out and dictated the pace and we had no answer for them,' Dave Tippett says. (Getty Images)  
'Their top players came out and dictated the pace and we had no answer for them,' Dave Tippett says. (Getty Images)  
Tuesday at Jobing.com Arena, all the superstars were wearing Detroit sweaters.

The Red Wings' 6-1 win did more than just punch their ticket to a second-round date with San Jose. It reminded everyone why this team must still be feared, regardless of off-season defections.

Pavel Datsyuk had a pair of goals, Henrik Zetterberg had three assists and ageless defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom had two goals and an assist as the Red Wings overwhelmed the Coyotes and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov with a storm of 50 shots.

"It was more like a hurricane than a storm," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We didn't catch the pace of the game the whole game. Their top players came out and dictated the pace and we had no answer for them."

For six games, this series see-sawed without any discernible momentum.

Riding the wave of its improbable season, the under-skilled but over-eager Coyotes went into Detroit and staved off elimination with a surprisingly simple, 5-2, Game 6 win that was vintage Tippett in its simplicity.

Tight checking. Traffic in front of Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, and relentless pursuit of the puck.

But when the finality of Game 7 dawned on the Red Wings, the gap between these teams was so wide it made you wonder where this Detroit team had been for the past two weeks.

"We had parts of other games where we played really good but our biggest problem was we couldn't really play for 60 minutes," Zetterberg said. "But this is why you play hockey: To have this opportunity in a Game 7 to go out and play your best."

Nowhere was Detroit's A-game more evident than on the power play. The Wings' puck possession was endless and its puck movement was so precise that its three power play goals felt more like an eventuality than a possibility.

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If there had been a stat available on time of possession in this game, Detroit would have resembled a potent NFL rushing attack while Phoenix assumed the role of weak passing team.

By the midway point of the second period, Detroit had fired 38 shots at Bryzgalov and it was clear there would be no more miracles in the desert.

"They were the hottest team in the league once they got healthy," Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris said. "Once they got all their guys back, you understand why everybody predicts them to win."

The Coyotes represent the flip side.

"Nobody expected us to win," Bryzgalov said. "All season."

Given the obstacles Phoenix overcame this season -- poor attendance, the possibility of relocation, the impending change in ownership, poor finances and a dearth of world-class skill players -- it is tempting to call this 107-point season a stepping stone for a team that has finally changed it culture.

The reality is, it won't be that simple. Phoenix has a laundry list of free agents, some of whom will not be back because the team can't afford them. The team's ownership situation is far from resolved, with any deal approved by the city of Glendale and the NHL certain to face legal battles from the watchdog Goldwater Institute.

And then there is the elephant in the room: this franchise's playoff history. The Coyotes still have not won a playoff series in their 14-year stint in Phoenix. They desperately needed this win to secure some cachet with the fans and the local media.

The Coyotes had the spotlight for one night in the Valley of the Sun. And they fell flat on their faces. When the Suns make the second round of the NBA playoffs or the Diamondbacks hit a winning streak, this heart-warming story will be forgotten.

And if the Coyotes don't start fast next season, Jobing.com Arena will again play to embarrassingly small crowds.

"We didn't start this season the way we wanted to," said captain Shane Doan, who sat out his fourth straight game with a third-degree separation of his shoulder. "And we didn't finish it the way we wanted to."

Hopefully, for the Coyotes' sake, the latter won't be the epitaph on this franchise's Phoenix history.

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