Sweep Makes Wings A Cup Favorite

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - April 27, 2011
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Detroit’s Valtteri Filppula celebrates a goal by teammate niklas Kornwall in the fourth game of a sweep against Phoenix. AP photo

One series does not a champion make. But the Detroit Red Wings’ beat-down of Phoenix does add a bit more uncertainty in the Western Conference - and thus the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The veteran team that refuses to get old and eventually slide out of Cup contention leads all playoff teams in scoring and scoring differential. They did so without leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg, who missed the entire series because of an injured left knee. Johan Franzen, who led Detroit with 28 regular season goals, missed the series clincher with an injured left ankle. Both are expected back for the second round of the playoffs.

To be sure, Phoenix isn’t a world beater. Ilya Brygalov was leaky in goal and the Coyotes simply lacked the Wings’ depth. Plus, Phoenix is a team without an owner - and perhaps even a city - and that has to weigh heavily on a organization desperate for success. Coyote’s coach Dave Tippett called the team’s ownership issues “a competitive disadvantage.” The league and would-be owner Matthew Hulsizer are negotiating with Goldwater Institute, a conservative watchdog organization that has threatened a lawsuit against the city, believing the bond initiative the city has created to fulfill its lease agreement with Hulsizer violates Arizona’s anti-subsidy law.

Detroit’s domination means that what seemed to be a twoor three-team race is suddenly more wide open.

And what makes the Wings challenging going forward is depth and experience. Against Phoenix, 13 different players scored a goal for the Wings and 16 registered at least a point. Detroit’s skaters also have a combined 1,710 playoff games under their belts, which is going to be beneficial as any march to the Cup is going to come on the road. Although first-round sweeps have led to long playoff runs for the Wings in recent years, in 2008 they won the Cup and the next year lost in the finals, Detroit’s regular season defensive woes are a strong reminder that even experience is no guarantee against mental lapses.

The Red Wings finished second in scoring during the regular season, but were a pedestrian eighth in goals allowed and 19th in scoring differential. Even worse was their 17th place finish in penalty killing. Jimmy Howard did improve his goals against average from 2.79 in the regular season to 2.50 in the playoffs, but remains a streaky netminder capable of being both brilliant and thoughtless. But shoddy goalkeeping has been a trend so far with several teams.

After going up 3-0 against Chicago, Vancouver (No. 1 seed in the West) got worked in its next two games by a combined score 12-2. San Jose (No. 2) gave up an average of 3.50 goals and needed two overtimes to take a 2-1 lead over the seventh-seeded Kings. Washington and Philadelphia, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the East respectively, have played good defense (1.75 and 2.0 goals against) but have struggled offensively (2.50 and 2.25) against two underwhelming opponents.

Over the overly long NHL playoffs, talent is usually the great equalizer, and unless a goalie gets hot, surprise winners are not that common.

President Trophy-winning Vancouver, with the league’s best scoring duo in Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Venzina finalist Roberto Luongo in net, were a clear favorite, as was Washington with its defense and the takeover talent of Alexander Ovechkin. But after Detroit’s first round sweep and the return of its two high-scoring forwards, the power may just have shifted.

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