DETROIT -- It was the kind of game that would be useful on video replay if you're ever trying to explain how exciting playoff hockey can be.
There were dazzling moves, a big comeback, a show of guts by a hurt player, hard hits – a couple of the controversial variety – and enough action to keep you glued to your seat until the final seconds ticked away in the Detroit Red Wings' 4-3 win against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday afternoon in this Western Conference quarterfinal at Joe Louis Arena.
"I would have liked to have buried them, but we won the two games at home," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock, whose team nearly frittered away a 4-0 lead it built early in the second period. "We took way too many penalties as the game went on. We have to be better controlling our discipline and we have to hope we don't take that many penalties, I guess."
The Red Wings (2-0) finished with nine infractions called against them and have committed 15 in the first two games. The Coyotes (0-2) committed seven in this game – including five in the first that led to a pair of power-play goals.
Ultimately, what saved the Wings was star Russian center Pavel Datsyuk's huge game (1 goal, 4 points) and solid defensive play by the team in the last half of the third period. Detroit had to outlast Phoenix mainly because of an inspired effort by Coyotes captain Shane Doan (2 goals, 3 points), which just wasn't enough to prevent Detroit from going up 2-0 in the series.
"You put yourself in a hole, you've got to find a way to dig out of it," Doan said. "We've got to find a way to pick up a win."
The Red Wings are 19-4 in series after winning the first two games dating back to the start of their 20-year streak of playoff appearances. Yet that was overshadowed by a memorable game featuring a highlight-worthy shot by Datsyuk to set up a goal and Detroit forward Johan Franzen receiving multiple stitches in his face after a hit by Doan in the first sent him flying headlong into the boards.
Franzen, who was injured in the first, returned midway through the second after undergoing preliminary tests for a concussion – bloodied, sewn up and sporting a plug of gauze stuffed in his right nostril. However, as much of a storyline as that was in the post-game locker room media sessions – Franzen thought Doan should've been ejected but neither coach agreed – so was Datsyuk's hot start to the playoffs.
He now has two goals and six points in the first two games, which is magnified because injured star forward Henrik Zetterberg (lower body) is still trying to get healthy.
Datsyuk is quickly becoming a one-man wrecking ball – albeit an incredibly skilled, graceful wrecking ball, on skates. After scoring the game’s first goal on a power-play midway through the first, Datsyuk assisted on the next two goals – one by Brian Rafalski and the other by Darren Helm – to give Detroit a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Rafalski's goal was the second on the power-play by the Red Wings, who benefited from five ill-advised Phoenix infractions in the game's first 20 minutes. It was Helm's goal that will be talked about and replayed thousands of times on internet videos, though – not because he scooped a rebound in the low slow and fired it into a vast expanse of open net with just 59 seconds left in the period.
It's highlight-worthy because of what set up the rebound – a jaw-dropping between-the-legs shot by Datsyuk off the rush that Ilya Bryzgalov brilliantly stopped, with the puck sliding perfectly to Helm for the goal.
"It was a stupid thing," Datsyuk said of the move. "It worked, though. Maybe next time, I try more easy way to score."
In typical Datsyuk form, he couldn’t resist an attempt at humor when asked about Helm.
"I'm little bit upset,” Datsyuk deadpanned, "because why he don't shoot it between legs?"
It was a light-hearted moment in a relieved Red Wings locker room, but Doan and the Coyotes nearly spoiled all the fun.
Doan's two power-play goals in the third – both in the first 10 minutes – made it a one-goal game for the final 11:23. His second, a blast from the slot, came just seconds before a 5-on-3 situation expired with both Helm and Franzen in the box. Phoenix and Detroit turned up the intensity even more from that point, but both goalies were solid and the Red Wings staved off the revived Coyotes for the win.
Still, nobody wearing the winged wheel is making conference semifinal plans just yet.
"It's an advantage, but this series is far from over," said Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who made 30 saves. "They're going to come at us Monday and we're going to have to weather the storm the first 10 minutes there, too."
Doan finished with a three-point game by also assisting on a power-play goal from Radim Vrbata that made it 4-1 at 7:02 of the second. Vrbata (1 goal, 2 assists) and Keith Yandle (3 assists) also had big games for Phoenix, while Bryzgalov made 27 saves and didn't allow another goal after Tomas Holmstrom made it 4-0 just 1:11 into the second.
The Coyotes also outshot the Red Wings by a slim 33-31 margin and had much better success with the man advantage (3-for-7 on power plays) than they did in Game 1. Their confidence is also intact.
"He's not going to let us quit," Yandle said of Doan, the Coyotes' captain. "He's going to put us on his back to make sure we don't quit."