The Detroit Red Wings defeated the Phoenix Coyotes in four games, a series sweep. Let's recap this series, and see what we've learned about the victorious Red Wings as they advance into the Western Conference Semifinals.
Before the playoffs started, I had this to say about the series:
Even with all the questions surrounding Detroit's goalie situation (Jimmy Howard doesn't appear to be the answer in Hockeytown), it's difficult to see this year's version ending any different unless Bryzgalov plays completely out of his mind and steals three games.
Red Wings in 5.
So how did this turn out? Well, the Red Wings received some very good goaltending from Howard throughout the series. In fact, he was one of the strengths of a dominant Detroit team and one of the main reasons they were able to so easily handle Phoenix.
What Happened To Phoenix?
This was a bad matchup for the Coyotes from the start. They never had the offensive firepower to match up with the Red Wings. Captain Shane Doan scored three goal in this series, Radim Vrbata added two goals of his own, and that's it. No one else on the Phoenix roster scored more than two goals. The lack of offensive depth came back to hurt the Coyotes.
Even with the poor offensive showing, the Coyotes had a shot with Ilya Bryzgalov in net. The goalie carried Phoenix on his shoulders all season, starting 68 games with a .921 SV% and a 2.48 GAA. In the playoffs? An .876 SV% along with a massive 4.36 GAA. Yes, he was playing a vaunted Red Wings offense. But those numbers won't win any series, especially if you are your team's best hope at stealing games.
What Did We Learn About Detroit?
They have a bit of offense -- The Red Wings were very impressive in dispatching a defensively sound Coyotes team so quickly, and without the services of Henrik Zetterberg. Pavel Datsyuk put on a puck-handling clinic with six points in the series. In all, five Red Wings players scored two goals in the series (and without Zetterberg) while 13 Wings players found the back of the net at least once in this series. That's some serious offensive depth, especially against a good opposing goalie and a stingy defense.
Goaltending is still a question mark -- In net, Jimmy Howard was solid. He wasn't asked to steal any games (and he didn't face a potent lineup by any stretch of the imagination) but he did his job. A .916 SV% with 2.50 GAA is certainly respectable, and more than enough with that offense in front of him.
They have time to get healthy -- With the sweep, Detroit gets plenty of time to get healthy and prepare for their next opponent, who should pose a significant challenge. Phoenix was the lame duck of the Western Conference, and a warmup for the Semifinals. There, the Red Wings' will likely be severely disadvantaged in net. Howard's numbers were solid, but not spectacular against Phoenix. He'll likely have to outplay his opposing netminder in the next round. But the sweep only makes them better. They could have as much as a week off before their next game. In the playoffs, that's invaluable.
Detroit does have a potent offense. If Zetterberg is back healthy for the next series (very likely), they'd have the best power play in the playoffs. A solid defensive corps backs up Howard, and they can send three lines of talented forwards at you. They'd be a tough matchup for any team, especially healthy and well-rested.
Who they want to see -- Los Angeles Kings or Nashville Predators, two defensive minded teams with limited offensive ability. The Red Wings can throw more quality waves of forwards than these two teams have defensemen to compensate.
Who they don't want to see -- San Jose Sharks or Anaheim Ducks. Both teams have just as much firepower as Detroit, and similar (if not better, in the case of Antti Niemi in San Jose) quality of goaltending. Both matchups would be shootouts, and the Wings don't yet have the confidence in Jimmy Howard to survive such a brawl.