Wings may be pulling away from Yotes
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There are moments in a playoff series that tip the scales, moments etched in the memories of fans who can recall them with vivid detail years later.
Just under five minutes into the third period Friday night, Phoenix Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal broke in alone on Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard and was thwarted not once, but twice, two saves that will be remembered for helping decide a pivotal game and possibly a first-round series that has been oh so close.
"I thought it was huge save," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after a 4-1 Game 5 victory that gave his club a 3-2 series lead. "That's the game any way you look at it."
The dejection in Hanzal's face after the game was palpable. He had a chance to be a hero.
"If I would have scored a goal, it would have been a different game," said the Coyotes forward.
"When Hanzal had that rebound, from the bench it looked like he had an open net from the side, but somehow Howard got his arm or stick out there and stopped it," said Red Wings captain Nick Lidstrom. "That was the key save in the game."
And from this vantage point, likely the series.
There has been so little separating the fourth (Phoenix) and fifth (Detroit) seeds in the Western Conference. But a telling development in this series is that after Detroit went down 2-1, the veteran Red Wings dug deep and matched the awesome work ethic of the tenacious Coyotes. That's a category the goal-challenged Coyotes always bank on being better in. But once the Red Wings committed physically and put the work boots on two games ago, the only deciding factor would be Detroit's ability to finish on its scoring chances.
Without Shane Doan again Friday night, the Coyotes had 31 shots and a decent array of chances, but could not convert. The Wings were outplayed in the second period (outshot 14-4) and for half of the third period as well before star Wings center Pavel Datsyuk won a key offensive-zone faceoff, which led to Tomas Holmstrom's go-ahead goal at 11:09. Just 1:10 later, Datsyuk himself produced the back-breaker with an all-world backhander that beat Ilya Bryzgalov.
Game over. Just like that. A game that was so evenly played was decided in a blink of an eye by two key shifts from Datsyuk.
"They're a very experienced team," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said of the Wings. "When you get your breaks, you have to capitalize on them."
Detroit's experience showed again Friday night. Tied at 1 going into the third period, the Wings never deviated from the game plan. They refused to give in and allow Phoenix to capitalize on mistakes that could come from forcing plays.
"We continued to have the patience," said Lidstrom. "We didn't get overly excited and jump ahead with a third guy high and give up odd-man breaks. I thought we stayed patient and then the big guys came up for us."
For the Coyotes, their power play continued to kill them. They went 0-for-5 and are now 3-for-22 for the series, an abysmal statistic that may ultimately be their downfall. Not only does the unit not produce, but it also kills the well-earned momentum and energy the hard-working Coyotes created with their five-on-five play.
"Oh yeah, that's the difference again tonight," said veteran Coyotes blueliner Mathieu Schneider. "We all take responsibility for that. I thought tonight we had chances to score on it ... but we definitely have to simplify. We turn pucks over when we try to do too many fancy things. We need to just get pucks at the net."
Schneider was inserted into the lineup as a seventh defenseman in order to spark the power play. He actually did produce a few chances, but could not convert in the end. All of which sets the stage for Sunday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena. The Wings smell blood.
"You don't want to give them life whatsoever," said Babcock. "They've got a good team; they've got good goaltending. You would hate to tempt fate and have to come back here and win three games on the road, so I think we understand that."
Few people will give the plucky Coyotes any chance now. Then again, those are the same people who picked them to finish last back in September.
"If you ever have been around a team that has fought through adversity, this is one of them," said Tippett. "That's just what I said [to the players]. It seems like we just keep getting piled on; that's become part of our identity. The only thing we can do is live up to our identity. We're going to be a team that never quits.
"We're going to go in there, we'll be ready to go."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.