Commentary

Stars lead Red Wings into second round

Updated: April 28, 2010, 8:34 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There's a confidence in knowing you've been there, done that.

For playoff luminaries such as Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk, Game 7 is the time to shine. And did they ever Tuesday night.

With surgical precision, the two veteran stars ripped apart the Coyotes with two goals apiece. Henrik Zetterberg also chipped in three assists as the Red Wings clobbered the home team 6-1 to take the first-round series.

Detroit looked very much like the veteran team with Cup rings galore, Phoenix like the nervous debutante.

[+] EnlargeRed Wings v Coyotes
Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty ImagesThe Red Wings outshot the Coyotes 50-33 en route to a 6-1 win Tuesday night.

"Our top guys came to play tonight," said Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. "And they're some of the best in the league."

With the whole hockey world waiting intently to see how Alex Ovechkin and his star-studded Washington Capitals will react in their Game 7 against Montreal on Wednesday night, if they were watching Tuesday, they saw how it's done. Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom raised their games, and the rest of the group followed.

"Those guys just raised the ante, and they dictated the outcome," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett.

"That's how it's supposed to be, right?" said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. "Our big guys were fantastic today. I'm not taking anything away from anybody else on our team, but the big guys really came to play. To be successful at this time of year, that's what you need, and they showed why they're such good players."

Datsyuk's second goal was a thing of beauty, his dizzying backhand-to-forehand deke an absolute masterpiece. By then, everyone knew the Wings' big guys had come to play. Not that it surprised anyone who has been around this club for a decade or so.

"It's no time to be nervous. Don't have time to be nervous," Datsyuk said. "Once the puck dropped, everyone just does their jobs."

In a series that was deservedly tied entering Game 7, the Red Wings forced the issue Tuesday night with a methodical yet devastating attack, while the Coyotes looked afraid to make mistakes, which of course only led to just that. The Coyotes had nine giveaways, Detroit just one.

"I think the experience really did come in handy in a game like this," said Lidstrom, who turns 40 on Wednesday. "I thought our team was really relaxed, even after the first period after we didn't score on [Ilya] Bryzgalov. The team was very patient out there tonight and really stuck to our game plan."

The score could have been worse. The Wings outshot the Coyotes 17-6 in the opening period, but didn't beat Bryzgalov until 2:01 into the second period. Datsyuk tallied the first of two straight goals as the Wings would end up with a 50-shot barrage that blew the Coyotes off the ice like a tropical storm.

"It was more like a hurricane than a storm," Tippett said. "We didn't catch the pace of the game the whole night. Their top players came out and dictated the pace, and we had no answer for them. They were just relentless. Hats off to them; they played an unbelievable game and we had no answer. They just turned it up to another level that we couldn't get to."

The Wings are now 20-6-2 since the Olympics, the best record in the NHL during that stretch. A team that had to scratch and claw during the second half to get into the playoffs now looks like its old self.

Up next: the San Jose Sharks. Beware, warned Bryzgalov.

"We were playing against one of the top teams in the world, and the way they played tonight, I don't know if anybody can beat them," said the Coyotes goalie.

The Coyotes are done for the season, but their success won't soon be forgotten. The team most people had picked to be last, a team without a coach or an owner at the start of training camp, a club that played in front of essentially only family and friends in October and November won over the hearts of the folks in the desert. By the time the buzzer sounded Tuesday night, a sellout crowd was on its feet giving its lunch-bucket team a heartfelt ovation.

Later, after the obligatory handshakes with the Red Wings, the Phoenix players raised their sticks in unison to the fans, most of whom hadn't left their seats, while Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" blared from the speakers. Inside the locker room moments later, Tippett told his players to be mighty proud of what they had accomplished.

"We talked about where we were last fall and where we are right now, and what kind of team I want to see moving ahead here," said Tippett, the hands-down favorite to win the Jack Adams Award this season. "And the kind of people that we have as the core of our team I think are unbelievable."

The team still doesn't have an owner, but on the ice, the structure is in place for future stability.

"We want to have a team where players, their families, they want to come to Phoenix and play," Tippett said. "They recognize it's a strong organization. They recognize it's a team that's going to have a chance to win every year. And we're going to play our way, do things right and give ourselves the best chance to win. I think we made strong steps that way this year."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.