PHOENIX COYOTES (2nd Pacific Division, 4th Western Conference)
Long Time Coming:
The Coyotes qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2002. Their 50 victories and 107 points are franchise records. Their second-place finish in the Pacific Division represents their highest divisional standing since 2001-02 – in fact, Phoenix had placed no higher than fourth in any season since. The Coyotes' 29 home victories also are a franchise record.
G Ilya Bryzgalov
has played the season-long starring role for a team that is otherwise much more than the sum of its parts – no Phoenix skater ranked among the top NHL's top 40 point scorers. Bryzgalov won 42 games to shatter his previous career-high of 28. His eight shutouts rank second to the nine by New Jersey's Martin Brodeur
for the League lead. Bryzgalov, who represented Russia at the 2010 Winter Olympics, also ranked among the NHL's top 10 goaltenders in goals against average (2.29) and save percentage (.920), while playing a career-high 69 games.
Acquired from Toronto at the March 3 trade deadline, RW Lee Stempniak
scored 14 goals in 18 games for the Coyotes and was named the NHL's First Star of the Month for March. Also brought in (from Colorado) at the deadline, LW Wojtek Wolski
recorded 18 points (six goals) in 18 games down the stretch for the Coyotes. The Poland-born first-round pick of the Avalanche in the 2004 Entry Draft tallied a career-high and team-leading 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists).
Managing To Succeed:
After two years of patient building with youth, Don Maloney
shifted gears in his third season as Phoenix GM, acquiring veterans with playoff experience to focus the Coyotes more upon winning now. Preseason acquisitions such as Ds Adrian Aucoin
and Jim Vandermeer
and F Radim Vrbata
and 2010 trade deadline day additions D Derek Morris
and F Wojtek Wolski
and Lee Stempniak
changed the mix in Phoenix, enabling the team to withstand the rigors of the stretch drive. Maloney's signature acquisition, of course, was one of his first as GM – the claiming of G Ilya Bryzgalov
off waivers from Anaheim on Nov. 17, 2007.
Jack Adams Finalist?:
Head coach Dave Tippett
figures to be a finalist for the Jack Adams
Award as NHL Coach of the Year. Hired on Sept. 24, 2009, Tippett guided a Phoenix team that had faded to a sub-.500 record and fourth-place finish in 2008-09 to within striking distance of a division title until the season's final week. In his seven seasons as an NHL head coach, Tippett's teams never have finished below .500 and only once failed to win at least 41 games and amass at least 97 points.
Tippett To The Defense:
Having consistently ranked among the NHL's poorest defensive teams since 2005-06, the Coyotes rode Dave Tippett
's defense-first system to division and conference title contention this season. Phoenix posted the NHL's third-best team goals against average (2.39) and ranked sixth in the League in penalty killing (84.5 percent).
When regulation ended, the Coyotes were just getting started. They posted a League-best 19-7 record in games requiring more than 60 minutes to decide -- including an NHL-best 14-6 in shootouts. Aucoin, a defenseman, was remarkably adept at shootouts, notching the deciding goal each time he scored -- he went six for nine in the shootout.
DETROIT RED WINGS (2nd Central Division, 5th Western Conference)
The Red Wings have clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 19th consecutive season, the longest active streak of qualifying for the postseason among the major pro sports teams. The closest franchises are the New Jersey Devils
and the NBA San Antonio Spurs (13 consecutive berths). With 102 points, the Red Wings extended their NHL record with a 10th consecutive 100-point season. This season will be the first since 1990-91 that the Red Wings open the playoffs without home-ice advantage.
Decimated By Injuries:
Because of injuries, the Red Wings spent much of the season on the playoff bubble. Among those who were out of the lineup for extended periods were forwards Henrik Zetterberg
, Johan Franzen
, Tomas Holmstrom
, Valtteri Filppula
, Jason Williams
and Dan Cleary
, plus defensemen Niklas Kronwall
and Andreas Lilja
Post Olympic Success:
The Red Wings were the NHL's hottest team after the Olympic break, posting a 16-3-2 record in their final 21 games. They open the Stanley Cup Playoffs having posted a 13-1-2 mark in their past 16 contests and have allowed just four goals in their past 53 times shorthanded (92.5%).
Key To Success:
A key to the Red Wings' recent surge has been the play of Jimmy Howard
, just the fourth goaltender in franchise history to post 30 wins in his rookie season. Howard started 25 consecutive games from Jan. 29 to Apr. 4, the longest streak by a Red Wings goaltender since Tim Cheveldae
(29) in 1991-92 and tops by a Detroit rookie since Connie Dion
(26) in 1943-44. Howard posted a 37-15-10 record, 2.26 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. He enters the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 15-0-2 record in his past 17 starts.
Mike Babcock is aiming to become the first head coach in hockey history to win an Olympic gold medal and the Stanley Cup in the same season. Babcock has compiled a 257-101-51 record in five seasons behind the Red Wings bench, making NHL history by posting at least 50 wins in each of his first four seasons in Detroit. Under his watch, the Red Wings have twice captured the Presidents' Trophy as the League's top regular-season club; have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in each of the past two seasons, winning the title in 2008. The last coach to guide his club to the Stanley Cup Final in three consecutive seasons was Edmonton's Glen Sather
from 1983 through 1985.
D Nicklas Lidstrom
's teams have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of his 18 NHL seasons. In October he became just the eighth defenseman in League history to reach the 1,000-point milestone, joining Ray Bourque
, Paul Coffey
, Al MacInnis
, Phil Housley, Larry Murphy
, Denis Potvin
and Brian Leetch
. Set to celebrate his 40th birthday April 28, Lidstrom led the Red Wings in average ice time per game this season (25:25) and was a 'plus' player for the 18th time in 18 NHL seasons, placing second on the club with a plus-22 rating. He leads all active players with a career plus-431.
Another Lady Byng?:
C Pavel Datsyuk
captured the team scoring crown for the fifth consecutive season with 70 points (27-43--70). None of the legends in the Red Wings' storied history -- Lindsay, Howe, Yzerman -- produced a streak longer than three campaigns. Datsyuk is the reigning two-time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy for combining sportsmanship with a high standard of play and the Frank Selke Trophy as the League's top defensive forward, the first player to win both trophies in consecutive seasons.