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Coyotes disappointed at quick exit

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After pushing Detroit to seven games in the playoffs last year and beefing up their defense through trades during the season, the Phoenix Coyotes were confident for their rematch with the Red Wings.

But it turned out to be a mismatch -- on every level. When it comes to skill, experience and poise, the Red Wings still own the hat trick. Phoenix was swept out of the playoffs for the first time since moving to Arizona, losing 6-3 in Game 4 on Wednesday night amid a flurry of third-period goals that the Coyotes simply couldn't stop.

"I don't think we took anything for granted against Detroit, but after last year we certainly felt like we had a chance," defenseman Adrian Aucoin said. "We thought we could have played them better. We know we can. Getting swept isn't even in your thoughts. It's miserable."

Phoenix had a glimmer of hope in Game 1, taking a quick lead on a Kyle Turris goal and earning four power-play chances in the first period. But they let the Red Wings off the hook and spent the rest of the series chasing them.

"We had all those opportunities in the first game and when they came back and beat us, that was big," captain Shane Doan said. "We never played another game with the same confidence. We played hard; we gave it all the effort that this team always brings. But we never could get our footing. We kept waiting for things to happen, and it did."

The power play cost Phoenix Game 1, but produced six goals in 11 chances in the last three games. However, Phoenix could never match Detroit's depth at 5-on-5 -- even without Henrik Zetterberg for the whole series and with Johan Franzen hurting and out for Game 4 -- and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's struggles were the final straw.

Bryzgalov, who had a .921 save percentage while winning 36 games during the regular season, allowed 17 goals on 128 shots in the four games against the Red Wings for a save percentage of .867. Many of Detroit's goals -- like Wednesday's game-winner by Danny Cleary with 6:19 left in regulation, that was banked in off his pad from deep in the corner and behind the goal line -- were of the soft variety.

"We didn't underestimate them. They are a hell of a team and they execute well," Bryzgalov said. "It's my mistake. The team deserved better than (Cleary's) goal."

But Doan said there was plenty of blame to go around.

"You're embarrassed, you got beat four straight," Doan said. "Bryz didn't have the series he wanted to have, but none of us did. We were just not comfortable, for whatever reason you might think."

Coyotes players wouldn't use the off-ice distractions about the team's future as an excuse. But they also admitted it made their jobs harder.

"I've never been part of anything like this," Aucoin said. "You try to block it out, but this is your life and your family. How do you do that? We're human. It's been a miserable year for this organization. I think the players did a great job under the circumstance while people are driving it through our brains that we might be moving out of here."

Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said after the two best regular seasons in franchise history -- 107 points in 2009-10 and 99 in 2010-11 -- the team might have gone as far as it can without the backbone of stable ownership.

"There needs to be a solution to the situation. It is a competitive disadvantage," Tippett said. "Everyone recognizes that. That's what's frustrating. We've scratched and clawed and I give these players a lot of credit, but this is two years now.

"I think we can win more if we have stable ownership that's able to move forward. We lost to a team that's been to the playoffs 20 straight years. I want this organization to take the next step, to get better and not come into a series when you feel like you're behind the eight-ball before you start."
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