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Babcock says value of experience in eye of beholder

by Brian Hedger
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, experience doesn't mean anything. Or, it means everything.
It all depends on your perspective, said Detroit coach Mike Babcock -- whose Stanley Cup Playoff-tested Red Wings play at surprising No. 4-seed Phoenix in Wednesday's quarterfinal series opener.  It's the Coyotes' first playoff appearance since 2002, but the 19th straight for Detroit -- which merely extends the Wings' impressive League record for yet another year.
Is that an advantage? Babcock thinks it is.
Sort of.
"If I'm coaching (Phoenix), I say experience is overrated," he said. "Because I'm coaching us, I'll say experience is important. How's that? We're going to find out, aren't we?"
Indeed they are, regardless of how many vets play for each team.
The Coyotes, written off by most before the season, do have some playoff experience -- including veteran goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who went a combined 9-5 with a 1.68 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in the 2006 and '07 postseason for Anaheim.

"If I'm coaching (Phoenix), I say experience is overrated. Because I'm coaching us, I'll say experience is important. How's that? We're going to find out, aren't we?"
-- Detroit coach Mike Babcock

It's just that Detroit is oozing with the "E" word at nearly every position. The Wings, the hottest team in the League the past two months, won the Cup two years ago and lost to Pittsburgh in the seventh game of the Cup Final last season. Many suspect Detroit's experience will catapult the Wings past Phoenix and likely farther into the postseason.
Yet, being battle-tested is not the only ingredient -- especially in the early going.
"In the first round it's different," veteran Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski said. "Everyone's going out there flying, and every team is usually pretty healthy."
After an injury-plagued season, the Wings are happy to be included among those healthy teams. They had a number of key players hurt and lost a whopping 310 man-games to injuries. Rafalski pointed to the return of center Johan Franzen and top-notch defender Niklas Kronwall as big sparks that helped the Wings amass an impressive 16-3-2 record since the Olympic break.
"Just getting healthy and getting 'Mule' (Franzen) back (helped us)," Rafalski said. "Keeping the lines set for the last three, four, five weeks has been very important for us to get some cohesiveness."
Interestingly, the one area where Detroit's playoff experience won't be considered an advantage is in goal. Jimmy Howard, a 26-year-old rookie, will taste playoff action for the first time, while veteran Chris Osgood lends his support from the bench.
If Howard continues to play like he did in Detroit's post-Olympic blitz from ninth to fifth in the conference, he should be fine. After stopping 27 of 29 shots against Chicago for his 37th win in 63 starts, Howard's GAA is 2.24 and his save percentage is .924 -- both in the League's upper tier. Still, Howard's heart likely will be racing by the time the puck is dropped in Arizona.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I'm excited about it. (Phoenix) is a good team. It's going to take a special effort to beat them."
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