A year ago the Detroit Red Wings were slowly getting healthy after one of (if not the) worst man games lost to injury seasons the team had ever seen. Hockeytown was looking at missing the playoffs and ending their consecutive playoff appearance streak at eighteen years.
One year ago the underdog Coyotes pushed the powerhouse Red Wings to a game seven; and then fell to the power of the mighty Winged Wheel in their home.
That was all a year ago.
This year the Red Wings are in their 20th consecutive playoff appearance while the Coyotes may still in legal turmoil over the future of the franchise the players put it all out there on the ice.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) night the Coyotes and the Red Wings will hit the ice in Hockeytown at 7:00 p.m. on Versus and it will all begin – again.
A highly motivated Phoenix is out to clear their name and avenge their loss in game seven last year. The team is slightly different from last year as they lost some and gained some in free agency and then again at the trade deadline they saw forward Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto head to Columbus for veteran defenseman Rostislav Klesla (and prospect Dane Byers). Back in January Phoenix traded defenseman Wojtek Wolski to the New York Rangers in return for veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival.
While the Coyotes have last years playoff experience to break down and learn from; and to motivate them to not fall to Red Wings again; they also have a revamped defensive core that will surely give Detroit a good run as their own defensive core is in shambles.
Detroit may have Captain Nicklas Lidstrom patrolling the blueline for the playoffs as he has for every year of his career; but with Niklas Kronwall still hit and miss in the line up rather than hitting (legally) people on the ice and the young and the young Jonathan Ericsson still slowly slipping down the effectiveness slope there are a lot of questions centered around the Red Wings defense:
Which Brian Rafalski will show up? Team USA Olympic Rafalski? Or the high turnover Rafalski?
Is Niklas Kronwall going to be able to suit up and play effectively?
Who will win out with the sixth defense spot? Veteran Ruslan Salei or rookie Jakub Kindl?
The last line of defense is your goaltender and there are questions for both teams on that front:
Will Ilya Bryzgalov keep being rocksolid for the Coyotes and continue to be a thorn in the Winged Wheels offensive side?
Can Jimmy Howard pull it together and perform like his rookie self from a year ago?
Will Chris Osgood come off of Long Term Injury Reserved and have one last playoff performance?
Last year Phoenix lost their Captain Shane Doan to injury during the series; this year Detroit will start the series without Henrik Zetterberg.
Yesterday the Red Wings recalled their “Black Aces” from their AHL affiliate club the Grand Rapids Griffins. Fifteen players (and even some staff) from the Griffins will be traveling, practicing and in a pinch even playing for the Red Wings. In recent years the “Black Aces” have included players like: Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Darren McCarty, and Jimmy Howard. This years class: Goaltenders – Thomas McCollum and Jordan Pearce. Defensemen – Travis Ehrhardt, Doug Janik, Brian Lashoff, Derek Meech (pending clearing re entry waiver), Logan Pyett and one of last years Hobey Baker finalist Brendan Smith. Forwards – Joakim Anderson, Cory Emmerton, Jan Murask, Francis Pare, Brent Raedeke, Tomas Tatar, and last seasons SM-liiga (Finland) playoff MVP Ilari Filppula (brother to current Red Wing Valtteri Filppula).
Tune in tomorrow as the NHL playoffs kick off on Versus with the rematch of the post season. Phoenix will try to avenge last years first round game seven loss to Detroit just as the Red Wings will be out to show the hockey world they are back.
A lot to prove on both sides and you can get in on all the action:
Game 1: Wed., April 13 at 7 p.m. on VERSUS and CBC (HD)
Game 2: Sat., April 16 at 1 p.m. on NBC (HD) and CBC (HD)
Game 3: Mon., April 17 at 10:30 p.m. on CBC (HD) and VERSUS
Game 4: Wed., April 20 at 10:30 p.m. on CBC (HD) and VERSUS
Game 5*: Fri., April 22 at 7 p.m. on CBC (HD) and VERSUS
Game 6*: Sun., April 24 at TBD on CBC (HD)
Game 7*: Wed., April 27 at TBD on (CBC (HD)
**Times listed in EST