Commentary

Wings cruise against dejected Coyotes

Updated: April 19, 2011, 8:35 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A year ago, the Detroit Red Wings got pushed to the limit by a Phoenix Coyotes team that left them black and blue and, quite frankly, exhausted.

This time around, the Wings might get plenty of much-needed rest.

Like a veteran boxer sensing a vulnerable opponent, Detroit struck early with a pair of goals 44 seconds apart less than three minutes into the game Monday night, a 1-2 punch that ensured the Coyotes wouldn't feed off their WhiteOut home crowd at Jobing.com Arena.

"You probably couldn't ask for a worse start," said dejected Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, knowing the incredible odds now stacked against his club. "We were excited to play tonight, but we got kicked right in the teeth early."

The 4-2 win on goals by Ruslan Salei, Drew Miller, Valtteri Filppula and Johan Franzen have the Wings firmly in command at three games to love with a chance at a sweep here Wednesday night in what possibly might be the last game ever in the Desert for the still ownerless Coyotes.

What a difference a year makes. By the time the Red Wings were finally able to dispose of the resilient Coyotes last spring, Detroit was running on fumes as it entered a second round it would lose to the San Jose Sharks.

"That's key if you can, to close it out when you have a chance to do it, to give yourself a few days in between series," Wings captain Nick Lidstrom told ESPN.com. "But it's not over yet. They're going to come out with even a better effort in Game 4."

A Cup champion often needs at least one short series to recharge the batteries and heal the welts. The Chicago Blackhawks got it last spring with a four-game sweep of the Sharks in the Western Conference finals. Now, the Wings and Vancouver Canucks, both Cup contenders, are up 3-0 in their respective series, and if they can take care of business in four or five games maximum, they'll be in solid shape moving forward.

"The teams that win in the end play less games than everybody else," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after his team's big win. "Everyone talks about a best-of-seven; to me, it's a race to four. Why would you play more games than you have to?"

Imagine being up 3-0 in this Western Conference quarterfinal series, meanwhile, without having to even use star center Henrik Zetterberg, who remains out with a lower body injury. You can almost bet you won't see him now in this series unless the Coyotes push this to six or seven games. The Wings can afford to be ultra-patient with Zetterberg's recovery at this rate.

With Zetterberg in street clothes once again, his teammates methodically dissected the Coyotes for a clinical victory. Darren Helm's huge hit on Ed Jovanovski on the forecheck set up the opening goal. Franzen got behind the beleaguered Phoenix defense to make it 4-1 45 seconds into the third period to erase any remaining doubt. In between, the Wings weren't as much dominating as efficient.

"We did what we had to do," veteran forward Kris Draper said matter-of-factly.

In the home dressing room, there sat captain Shane Doan, head in hands, looking as devastated as one can be. He said all the right things, but inside you know he felt what everyone else in the hockey world knows: Monday night was their chance to make this a series.

Babcock, interestingly enough, offered up the most realistic summation of the night.

"Tonight was a huge swing game, let's face it," said the Wings coach. "It's 2-1 or 3-0, and 3-0 is tough. As much as these guys are all mentally tough, you're over there [in the Coyotes room] and you know it's 3-0. That's a monster to climb. If it's 2-1, you're all fired up, you've got another home game. This was a tough one tonight [for the Coyotes]."

The Coyotes just aren't the Coyotes of a year ago. They're not as sound defensively and they're certainly not getting as many saves from goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. It's just so deflating to a team when the confidence isn't the same in your goalie, and that's what has happened here. The Russian goalie will take most of the heat for the 3-0 series hole.

"It's not fair for Bryz," Doan said. "He's been our best player for two years. He's been unbelievable and we count on him so much. Obviously, we have to help him out in some way."

Agreed, let's not pin all of this on Bryzgalov. There have been plenty of other passengers on the Coyotes in these three games. Doan once again Monday night worked his tail off and was terrific while linemate Ray Whitney was also strong. Overall, there were more contributors in Game 3 than the previous two, but it still felt short. There's not enough of a sustained attack. Not enough puck possession. And certainly not enough of a test for Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.

"We've got lots of try and lots of will in that room, we just got to change that will into having success on the scoreboard," said Tippett.

And finally, let's not ignore the elephant in the room. The annoying saga of the team's ownership woes has without a doubt affected the players on the Coyotes. They're human. They know the NHL can't run their team for another season. They know May is coming and the league must soon either find an 11th-hour solution here in Phoenix or pull the plug and move the team to Winnipeg. It's unnerving. Some of these players go home and get asked about it every day from loved ones. More than half the team is slated for unrestricted free agency, they have no clue what their future is, either.

On and off the ice, the Coyotes need divine help.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.