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Wings hope experience pays off vs. Coyotes

by John Kreiser

RED WINGS (44-24-14) at COYOTES (50-25-7)

Last 10 -- Detroit 8-1-1; Phoenix 5-3-2

Season series -- The teams split their four games this season, with each winning once on the other's home ice. Detroit earned both its victories in regulation, 3-2 at home on Dec. 14 and 4-1 at Phoenix on Jan. 2. The Coyotes won 3-2 in overtime at home on Oct. 22 and 4-3 in OT at Detroit on Jan. 26 -- a game that saw the Coyotes score twice with a sixth-attacker and again in overtime for the win. The Wings have won both playoff series against the Coyotes' franchise in six games, beating the Winnipeg Jets in 1996 (Detroit won the last game ever played at the Winnipeg Arena) and the Coyotes two years later.

Big story -- It's hard to imagine a bigger disparity in playoff experience than this series. The Wings are taking part in their 19th consecutive postseason; the Coyotes are in for the first time since 2002. Detroit's roster includes a core of players who've been part of all four Cup-winners since 1997; the Coyotes' franchise has never gotten past the second round and GM Don Maloney didn't hire Dave Tippett as coach until the final week of the preseason. But don't downplay the Coyotes' resilience -- they were fabulous in one-goal games (29-6-7), avoided major losing streaks all season and don't figure to be cowed by the Wings' aura of success.

Team Scope:

Red Wings -- The Wings rode a post-Olympic hot streak to a playoff berth that seemed unlikely for much of the season, as injuries riddled their roster. Detroit lost more than 300 man-games to injuries and had just three players dress for all 82 games.

"I think you wondered if we were ever going to stop getting injured," coach Mike Babcock said. "Then you wondered if you'd run out of time."

But with the regular season completed and another playoff berth secured, Babcock hopes his players have put their roller-coaster ride behind them.

"Every season's a huge challenge, I think each one presents different ones," Babcock said. "You don't even think about it now, you just think about getting ready for the playoffs."

Coyotes -- As a franchise, the Coyotes can't hold a candle to the Wings in terms of playoff experience. But Phoenix, not Detroit, is the team with a starting goaltender who owns a Stanley Cup ring. Ilya Bryzgalov went 3-1-0 with Anaheim when the Ducks won the Cup three years ago and played some big games in the early rounds while Jean-Sebastien Giguere was out.

So don't expect him to be intimidated by facing the Wings -- after all, he was on the Ducks when they eliminated Detroit on the way to the Cup three years ago.

"I think it's great," he said of facing the Wings. "It's the most-experienced team in the NHL, they have great players on their roster. I think it's a good test for us because if you want to win the Stanley Cup and you want to go far in the playoffs, you've got to face that team sooner or later."

Who's hot -- Jimmy Howard, Detroit's rookie goaltender, won all three of his starts in the final week of the regular season and is 13-0-2 in his last 15 games -- relegating three-time Cup winner Chris Osgood to the bench. …

Injury report -- The Wings, whose season was nearly wrecked by a tidal wave of injuries, are healthy -- the only veteran missing is center Kirk Maltby, who had shoulder surgery in February and isn't likely to play again this season. … Phoenix center Robert Lang hasn't played since March 4 due to a lower-body injury. But he's skating again and could be ready by the weekend. Forward Scottie Upshall (knee surgery) and defenseman Kurt Sauer (head) are out.

Stat pack -- The Wings extended the longest active playoff streak in North American team sports by qualifying for the 19th consecutive season. However, they are without home-ice advantage in the first round for the first time since 1992. … Phoenix set a franchise record with 29 home wins. The Coyotes were also the NHL's best team in games that were tied after regulation, winning five times in overtime and going 14-6 in shootouts.

Puck drop -- Arena will be a sea of white for the Coyotes' first playoff game since 2002. Perhaps the first time since moving to the desert in 1996, home ice has been a real advantage for the Coyotes -- they went 29-10-2 and have won their last seven home games.

"Our fans have been unbelievable," Tippett said after Monday's practice. "There's been some buildings that I've been in that have been pretty loud, but our fans and the enthusiasm the last little while has been fantastic."

But while he's glad to be starting the series at home, Tippett knows there's only so much of an edge that comes with it.

"It's great for our players to play at home," he said, "but we feel like our game is built out of a game of consistency -- and we should be able to play anywhere."

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