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First Round Sequel

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – It went down to the final day of the regular-season, but the Red Wings now know who they will face in the opening round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The third-seeded Wings will host No. 6 seed Phoenix when the Western Conference quarterfinals kicks off with Game 1 of the best-of-seven game series, which will be Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena.


By defeating the Blackhawks Sunday afternoon, 4-3, the Red Wings helped settle the playoff seeding. The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks can still qualify as the No. 8 seed only if the Minnesota Wild defeat Dallas in regulation. Otherwise, the Stars will be the No. 8 seed and face the Vancouver Canucks in a first round match-up.

For the ninth time in franchise history, the Red Wings will open the playoffs facing the same Round 1 opponent from the previous spring. Last season, the Wings needed seven games to eliminate the Coyotes in the opening round.

This is the fourth time that these franchises will face-off in the playoffs – all in the opening round. The Wings needed six games to dispose of the Coyotes en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 1998. Two years earlier, the Wings defeated the then-Winnipeg Jets in six games. The following season the Jets moved to Phoenix.

During the regular-season the teams split the four-game series, with three games being decided by one-goal. The Coyotes' offense may not put much fear into some, but they still have much of the same building blocks in place, led by veteran captain Shane Doan, who once again is the Coyotes’ leading scorer, reaching the 20-goal plateau for the eighth time in his 15 NHL seasons.

Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has been shape and is once again upon the league’s best shot-stoppers. He’s seven shutouts this season is just one less than he had all of last season.

Meanwhile, the Red Wings will again counter with four 20-goal scorers in forwards Johan Franzen (28), Danny Cleary (26), Henrik Zetterberg (24) and Pavel Datsyuk (23). Yet, it’s still unknown how much Zetterberg will be able to contribute since he’s listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury suffered last Wednesday in Carolina.

On paper, it’s easy to think that the Wings have the advantage over the Coyotes in this opening round series. The Wings’ special teams were superior to Phoenix’s and they outscored the Coyotes, 257-226. However, winning face-offs will be pivotal

The Red Wings were third in faceoff winning percentage, led by center Darren Helm, who won 52.6 percent of his draws. Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula were also over 50 percent in faceoff wins.

But the Coyotes’ centermen will be formidable in the face-off circle. They’re led by Eric Belanger who was No. 12 among league centers with a 55.3 percent success rate. The Wings will also need to be aware of Vernon Fiddler (53.9) and Martin Hanzel (50.3), particularly when beginning penalty-kills in their own zone.

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