Last year's series between the Detroit Red Wings and the Phoenix Coyotes was absolutely surreal: sold out games in Glendale, with a crowd whiting out the building; the Coyotes playing through the uncertainty of their ownership situation and future in the city; Shane Doan's face exploding in euphoria; and, of course, snakes on the ice.
This postseason's battle between the Wings and the Coyotes, however, features … well, pretty much everything listed above. Although we're not sure about the snakes this time.
What has changed: The Red Wings are a year older and a little more injured, and the Coyotes are an upset glamour pick for many pundits and fans this postseason.
Will the Coyotes eliminate the Red Wings?
No. 3 Detroit Red Wings vs. No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes
Wednesday, April 13 Phoenix at Detroit, 7 p.m.
Saturday, April 16 Phoenix at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Monday, April 18 Detroit at Phoenix, 10:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 20 Detroit at Phoenix, 10:30 p.m.
*Friday, April 22 Phoenix at Detroit, 7 p.m.
*Sunday, April 24 Detroit at Phoenix, TBD
*Wednesday, April 27 Phoenix at Detroit, TBD
All times Eastern
Henrik Zetterberg played every game but the final two for the Red Wings, but his status for this series was uncertain before Game 1, which he'll miss with an injury. He's their leading scorer (80 points) and their leading forward in power-play time (3:15). Are the Wings deep enough at forward to compensate? Perhaps. Are they a significantly better team with Zetterberg healthy? Absolutely.
Pavel Datsyuk was limited to 56 games due to injury, but remains one of the most dangerous players in hockey. They could use more from him on the power play; same goes for Tomas Holmstrom, who has 10 power-play goals on the season by three since Feb. 26.
It's the playoffs, which means it's Mule Time. Johan Franzen has 31 goals and 59 points in his last 51 playoff games, including seven points in seven games against Phoenix last postseason. Few players find another gear like Franzen in the playoffs.
Danny Cleary had 26 goals. Todd Bertuzzi finished the season strongly offensively. Valtteri Filppula is going to be vital for secondary scoring.
Last season, the Coyotes had one 20-goal scorer; same deal this season, as Shane Doan had 20 tallies and 40 assists to lead the team in scoring. He's skated recently with fellow vets Eric Belanger (40 points) and Ray Whitney (57 points). Obviously, a full series from Doan is a key; he was injured in Game 3 last season and missed the rest of the series.
Radim Vrbata, who scored 24 goals last season, was one of three Coyotes to score 19 goals, along with Lauri Korpikoski and Lee Stempniak. Martin Hanzal just returned to the lineup after missing 13 games with a lower body injury.
With Belanger (55.3), Vernon Fiddler (53.9) and Hanzal, they have three pivots that are over 50 percent in faceoffs. An advantage in the dot could be a huge advantage for the Yotes.
Of course, the key to the entire series hinges on the four or so minutes of BizNasty we'll see …
The notion that Nicklas Lidstrom isn't the league's top defenseman because he was a minus-2 is absurd. He hasn't had a season up to his standards, sure, but he's still their most essential special teams player and ice-time leader 5-on-5. His 62 points aren't shabby, either. He's spent the majority of his time with Brad Stuart, who had 131 hits and 114 blocked shots.
Speaking of hits: Niklas Kronwall is back from injury, and had five points against the Coyotes last season. Brian Rafalski, Jonathan Ericsson and Ruslan Salei round out the group.
Keith Yandle is in the Norris Trophy conversation thanks to a stellar 59-point season that includes 26 power-play points. He led the Coyotes with 24:22 average ice time, with Adrian Aucoin second at 21:39. Aucoin and Ed Jovanovski are the Coyotes' leaders for shorthanded ice time, and along with Rostislav Klesla and Derek Morris they're going to have to handle the Wings' sizable forwards down low.
Major cause of concern for the Red Wings. Jimmy Howard has been pedestrian too often this season, earning 37 wins but sporting an inflated 2.79 GAA. The Wings say this isn't a make-or-break postseason for him, but what if he's the major liability in the first round? There's no Chris Osgood to save the day … yet.
Conversely, the Coyotes have a major advantage with Ilya Bryzgalov. His GAA rose to 2.48 this season, while his save percentage improved to .921. Simply put: The player that can steal this series, although the Red Wings hung 24 goals on him in seven games last postseason.
Did you know next year marks the 10-year anniversary for the Red Wings/Eminem anthem "Without Stanley"?
Until we saw the lyrics, we thought this was about Stan Lee. Which made us think it was viral marketing for the Guardians Project. Which made us weep.
A fantastic battle behind the bench. Mike Babcock is one of the NHL's best adjusters, and a coach that simply knows how to manage his roster to perfection. Dave Tippett has led this team to two of the best regular seasons in franchise history and has created a system that spreads offense through the lineup.
Babcock and Tippett and 1-2 in number of wins since the 2002 season. Players want to win for both of these guys.
The Red Wings were fifth in the NHL on the power play (22.3 percent, 301 chances) and a disappointing 17th on the kill (82.3 percent, 300 times shorthanded). Zetterberg had 30 power-play points.
The Coyotes were 23rd on the power play (15.9 percent on 289 attempts) and 26th on the kill (78.4 percent, 296 times shorthanded). So, in summary: Stay. Out. Of. The. Box.
A memento for any fan …
… that needs a new box for their conference and Stanley Cup gold coins. Seriously, do Red Wings fans even care about division titles?
Howard's a cause for concern. Zetterberg is a cause for concern. Their very average (21-14-6) record at home is a concern, with home ice in this series. The fact that that Coyotes took them to seven without Doan for most of the series is a concern, too.
That said, the Detroit Red Wings are deeper and filled with players that step up in the postseason.
Prediction: Red Wings in seven. They do it again, going the distance and having players like Datsyuk and Franzen break through the Coyotes' system to create goals.