GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Red Wings went into Monday's Game 3 feeling if they could survive the first 10 minutes against the Coyotes and their hyped-up, white-clad crowd, they would be in great shape to take total command of this Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
As it turned out, Detroit needed less than three minutes to put both Phoenix and the series in a choke-hold.
Ruslan Salei and Drew Miller shocked the Coyotes with two goals in the first 2:41 of play and Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard made it stand up with 28 saves as the Red Wings took a commanding 3-0 lead in the series with a 4-2 win at Jobing.com Arena.
The Coyotes figured to have an edge in goaltending when the series began, but it has been anything but that. While Phoenix star Ilya Bryzgalov has allowed 12 goals in four games and struggled, Howard has been strong on his end. He was at his best in Game 3, frustrating the hard-charging Coyotes at every turn with big saves to keep Detroit in front all night.
"He made two exceptional saves in the first period and came up big for us," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "Tonight he had way more work and it was a tougher game for him. They had better traffic at the net and they played in our zone for longer periods of time."
The Red Wings, who ousted Phoenix in seven games in last year's first-round series, have now won four of five playoff games against the Coyotes in Phoenix over the last two years. They can close out the series and sweep the Coyotes with one more – Game 4 is here on Wednesday night.
"You pretty much have to do something in the next game or you don't have a game after that," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "That's plenty of motivation right there."
Detroit scored all four of their goals in the first three minutes of each period – and on their first shot of each period. Valtteri Filppula made it 3-0 just 2:50 into the second to put the Red Wings in complete control and Johan Franzen added a breakaway goal in the opening minute of the third to seal it.
"They were coming pretty hard at us, but we got goals on our first chances and that's always hard to come back from," said Franzen, who was a game time decision with an ankle injury suffered in Game 2 – on the same play when he went face-first into the Joe Louis Arena boards and needed 23 stitches of repair.
David Schlemko and Ray Whitney scored on the power-play for Phoenix midway through the second period and third period respectively, but the Coyotes never got closer than two goals after Detroit's initial burst.
Whitney said Filppula's goal – just moments after Phoenix defenseman Adrian Aucoin hit the post – was especially deflating.
"You put the work in, you put the effort in and get a post from making it a close game and a shift later the puck is in your net and you're down three goals," Whitney said. "It's frustrating when you have the fight in you and it's not amounting to a whole lot."
For the second straight game, the Coyotes failed to score an even-strength goal. They have just one since Kyle Turris scored just over two minutes into Game 1.
"Our 5-on-5 play was concerning," Whitney said. "We're not generating as much as we should. There was a lot of talk about how Detroit wasn't playing well defensively this season, but I beg to differ in this series. They are a good defensive team, especially with a lead. Giving them a three-goal lead every night makes it awful tough."
Looking to feed off the momentum of a rocking "White Out" crowd, the Coyotes instead watched the Red Wings turn all the momentum their way.
At 1:57, Darren Helm separated Ed Jovanovski from the puck behind the Phoenix net and fed out to Salei at the left circle for a one-timer that hit a Phoenix player and skidded by Bryzgalov on Detroit's first shot of the game.
Just 44 seconds later, Niklas Kronwall's shot from the right point deflected off Miller's right shin pad in the slot. Suddenly the Red Wings, who had a 4-0 lead 21 minutes into Game 2, had a 2-0 lead before the Coyotes had sent a single shot toward Howard.
"It's one of those goals … some of the guys are laughing that I haven't scored a goal by a shot yet this year," Miller said. "But I'll take whatever I can. Sometimes dirty, garbage goals are the fun ones."
The Coyotes stabilized and put pressure on Detroit's net for the rest of the period, but Howard – who had outplayed Bryzgalov in all three games – made big stops on Schlemko, Andrew Ebbett and Taylor Pyatt to keep the lead intact.
"We had a third man high all night long. We made them come the full 200 feet," Howard said. "We're doing a tremendous job keeping it simple, tying up sticks, allowing me to see the puck. When I can see it, I'm going to stop it.''
Filppula made it 3-1 when he won a faceoff, took a return pass from Jiri Hudler, pulled Bryzgalov across the crease and beat him over the pad at to put the Red Wings in complete command.
Phoenix finally found some life when young fourth-liners Mikkel Boedker and Turris, were given a power-play shift and set up Schlemko, who put a wrist shot over Howard from the base of the left circle at 11:43 to make it 3-1.
But Franzen finished off a poor Michal Rozsival turnover with a breakaway to being the third period, beating Bryzgalov over the glove to snuff out any hopes.
Whitney power-play goal made it 4-2 with seven minutes left I to go, but the Coyotes never got any closer.