GLENDALE, ARIZ. - Derek Morris makes no bones about his job in the NHL. Being Bobby Orr isn't it.
"I'm not a goal scorer, let's be honest," the 31-year-old defenseman said with a smile. "But when the opportunity arises, I can still wind it up."
The opportunity arose Wednesday and Morris responded with his first three-point game in more than three years -- two assists and the game-winning goal 2:19 into the third period – as the Coyotes rallied to beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series before a sold-out, white-clad crowd that filled Jobing.com Arena to celebrate the franchise's first playoff game in eight years.
"If you look at our record, we've come back at lot. It's been like that all year," Morris said. "We believe we can come back and score, and we don't believe we're out of any game.
On a night when the dormant Phoenix power play produced goals on its first three chances, Morris recorded his first three-point night since Mar. 18, 2007 -- an 8-4 loss to Edmonton during another lost season in the desert in his first stint with Phoenix.
Fellow defenseman Keith Yandle had a goal and an assist for Phoenix, which led the league in goals by defensemen for most of the season. Wojtek Wolski scored on the power play in between as the Coyotes -- who finished 28th in the League with the extra man this season and ended the season on an 0-for-20 drought – put up three power-play goals for just the third time all season.
Ilya Bryzgalov survived an early whiff on a long shot by Thomas Holmstrom to make 38 saves. He was perfect door after allowing two in the first 16:27 -- a floater by Holmstrom from beyond the top of the left circle that he missed with his glove, and a Nicklas Lidstrom power-play blast with Holmstrom providing a perfect screen.
Lidstrom took five stitches to his upper lip in the third period when he was hit by an inadvertent stick from Phoenix's Vernon Fiddler. No penalty was called on the play, which would have give Detroit a 5-on-3. Lidstrom said the officials told him he was hit by teammate Valtteri Filppula.
"No way was it Fil's stick. (The referee) would have been better off telling me he missed it," Lidstrom said. "Even though it's an accidental play, it still happened."
After being badly outplayed in the first 20 minutes, during which they were outshot 20-7, the Coyotes used their physical play to turn the game in their favor. They finished with 43 hits, led by captain Shane Doan's nine, and snapped a string of seven straight Game 1 playoff losses for the franchise – including 0-for-5 in Phoenix – dating back to 1992, when the then-Winnipeg Jets beat Vancouver.
Phoenix needed only nine seconds of power-play time for Yandle to answer Holmstrom's early goal with a shot from the point that found its way around a Doan screen and past Jimmy Howard 14:13 into the game. After Lidstrom put Detroit back in front 2:14 later, Yandle, stationed at the left point, took a feed from Morris and made a perfect diagonal pass to Wojtek Wolski all alone in the right circle for a one-timer to get Phoenix even again 6:15 into the second.
"Our PK kind of let us down tonight," Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart said. "They won some faceoffs and really put the puck on net. They had some good results, and we have to find a way to counteract them."
It stayed that way until Matt Lombardi won a draw back to Morris, who wasn't challenged and came down the slot within 30 feet of the net before blasting a slapper past Howard's blocker.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock claimed the reason Morris had no one near him was that the Coyotes were guilty of interference on the play.
"That's the way hockey goes sometimes," he said. "The bottom line was their special teams were better than ours.
"We have to play better, and we have to play harder for longer," Babcock said. "The bottom line is you have to score -- it's not about chances. You have to give them credit; I thought they got stronger as the game went on I thought we were better early than them, and I thought they were better late than us."
Shift of the game: The Phoenix power play, a weak point of the team all season, came up huge with three goals in four chances. The Coyotes needed only nine seconds for the first tally by Keith Yandle and just 44 second for Wojtek Wolski's goal in the second period. But the game-winner came suddenly: Matthew Lombardi won a draw in the left circle back to Derek Morris, who found no one coming out to play him. With plenty of time, Morris took a couple of strides before teeing up a slap shot that beat Jimmy Howard cleanly at 2:19 of the third period. The Coyotes were rocky in their most consistent area – 5-on-5 hockey – but won the battle of the special teams against the Wings.
1 - 0 DET
1 - 1 Tie