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Wings glad to get a breather after sweep

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom will rest. Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg will heal. The penalty-killing unit will drill. And, hopefully, Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard won’t rust.

Detroit’s 6-3 win over Phoenix on Wednesday and four-game sweep of the Coyotes will give the Wings at least a week to prepare for their Western Conference semifinal opponent. That’s great news for those with bumps a bruises; Zetterberg (knee) and Franzen (head and ankle) should be ready to go when Detroit takes the ice again.

"We're obviously a way better team if we got Mule and Z. We're way deeper," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "It's a good series for us, anytime you can win four straight and not risk getting hurt."

But while the Red Wings are better with two of their top forwards, they showed off their depth against the Coyotes. Detroit had 13 players score goals, 16 players record at least one point and had different lines leading the way in each game.

"It's funny how it goes," said forward Danny Cleary, who banked in the series-winning goal off the pad of Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov with 6:19 left on Wednesday. "When an important player like (Zetterberg) is out, it's almost like you play smarter, play harder. You realize you're missing your top offensive guy. Certainly our depth was key for this series. We're going to need that as time goes on."

Datsyuk was playing at a high level with 7 points – 6 in the first two games. Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves terrorized the Phoenix defense with their relentless forecheck. Cleary and Valtteri Filppula piled up the points – and when Franzen was finally forced to the sidelines in Game 4, the Wings had 22-year veteran Mike Modano waiting to step in.

Modano had an assist on Datsyuk’s  first-period goal and relished the chance to get back into the postseason fray.

"Certainly when (being a healthy postseason scratch) hasn't happened in 22 years, it's tough to deal with in this scenario, in my career, in my life. It's a challenge," said Modano, who had his season marred by wrist problems and is likely headed back to the bench if everyone is healthy in the second round. "But that's the only alternative. You got to be ready and stay mentally sharp and stay positive and know that weird things can happen. The opportunity may come again. When it does, hopefully the night goes like this."

Babcock was impressed that Modano hit the ground skating. "I thought Mo played great, better than I thought he was going to play," he said. "I thought he was physical, he shot the puck. He skated. That's a good sign for us."

There are areas of concern. Detroit allowed Phoenix’s pedestrian power play to score six times on 11 chances (54 percent) over the last three games -- although the Wings came up with a big kill at the beginning of the third period of Game 4 with the score tied 3-3. The Wings took a high number of penalties early in the series before settling down, with Brad Stuart getting the only two calls, including a fluky delay of game, on Wednesday.

But there were far more positives, starting in goal. Howard saved the Red Wings early in Game 1, denying the Coyotes on four power plays, and outplayed Bryzgalov throughout the series. He was victimized early in Game 4 by a pair of early goals off deflections by Taylor Pyatt and Shane Doan but finished strong.

"Stuff's going to happen out there," Howard said. "The first two went off skates and the third one was a tremendous passing play (finished by Martin Hanzal) on the power play. It's important you keep the right mind frame and continue to battle and make saves for the guys."

 Babcock praised Howard for his work ethic and raising his game.

"All players are a work in progress," Babcock said. "I think you get better and get confidence and feel good about yourself. He's worked real hard, he's become a good goalie in this league. He gets run support, he gets goals, which makes it way easier for a goaltender."

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